Tue, Nov 26, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Deadlines are not the best way to tackle crime

By Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

Several elected officials have recently been victims of violent crimes. Taipei County Council Speaker Hsu Tsai-en (許再恩) narrowly escaped a kidnapping. KMT Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) was mugged by three armed men in a mountainous area in Sanhsia. On Nov. 16 Kaohsiung County Councilor Lu Hsieh Shan-shan (盧謝珊珊) was robbed in a busy area of Kaohsiung City and, on the same day, Taipei City Councilor Chen Chin-chi (陳進棋) was gunned down in public.

These crimes have had a major impact on society. Saying that law and order has deteriorated is no longer an empty complaint. We keep hearing about ordinary citizens being robbed on the streets, having their cars stolen for ransom or being cheated in scratch-and-win lottery scams, but we haven't seen the government propose any solutions, much less adopt an aggressive response.

Instead, the officials concerned apologized to the public for the spate of incidents involving elected officials. At the same time, they have tried to show their determination to improve law and order by demanding that the police solve the cases quickly. There have also been demands to replace precinct chiefs. Law and order became a political issue.

Can the problem really be solved by setting deadlines for cracking the cases, or by replacing precinct chiefs?

Deadlines were set to solve the murders of Taoyuan County Commissioner Liu Pang-yu (劉邦友) and DPP Women's Affairs Department chief Peng Wan-ru (彭婉如) in 1996, but neither case has been solved yet.

The pressure to meet deadlines or replace precinct chiefs is not conducive to effective criminal investigation and may do the police irreparable damage. For example, take the case of Wang Ying-hsien (王迎先). Twenty years ago the Kuting branch of the Land Bank in Taipei was robbed by armed men. Under pressure to crack the nation's first bank robbery, the Criminal Investigation Bureau secured a confession from Wang by torture.

But consider the case of the snipers in the US who threw the Washington area into panic last month. We in law enforcement agencies envy the scope that the US police enjoy to conduct thoroughly professional investigations. The US snipers committed 20 crimes during a three-week spree, killing at least 13 people. The murder scenes were chosen at random and the targets were of all ages and both sexes. Major roads out of the Washington area were often seriously congested as a result of police roadblocks set up to hunt down the sniper.

Even when fears that the Washington area was shrouded in terrorism were at their height, however, no one demanded that Montgomery County's police chief step down. The case had attracted worldwide attention, but neither US President George W. Bush nor Attorney General John Ashcroft demanded that the case be solved by a certain time.

Be they in Taiwan or the US, solutions to most major criminal cases require both police expertise and information from the public. In the sniper case, the police painstakingly investigated 70,000 pieces of information supplied by the public before collecting sufficient evidence to issue arrest warrants. The sus-pects were caught after a mem-ber of the public called the police. This is a typical example of police-public cooperation.

Police chiefs need not jump to the front line to command investigations. Nor should politicians babble nonsense to apply pressure. We must create room for professional police investigations that will allow officers to focus on prevention and investigation of crime. This may be the best support and trust that society can give to the police at a time when law and order is deteriorating.

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