At first sight most people will be supportive of the idea of a ‘gangster tax’ – but we do at least need to think about the potential precedent
Today Strathclyde Chief Constable Stephen House has suggested that a proportion of money raised by the arrest of funds held by criminals should be converted into a ‘gangster tax’ to finance greater police action against organised crime. The first thing to say is that organised crime is a massive blight on the country and the way in which these criminals have managed, with the help of an array of lawyers and accountants, to evade adequate prosecution is something of a national disgrace. It is shocking that apparently respected professionals help to ensure the ongoing toll taken by organised crime by helping to launder the profits of this crime and to protect the liberty of its bosses. They should be in jail, not passing as pillars of their communities.
And so there would be no argument from me about significant investment in the police’s ability to go after these people and to match them well-funded lawyer for well-funded lawyer. But accepting a proportion of the income of proceeds of crimes they are investigating? That makes me uneasy. Yes what is being talked about is a dedicated and specialist part of the police force working in a particularly difficult area and not the working of the police generally. And yes, they are up against it. And yet like it or not this is introducing (or at least potentially introducing) a profit motive into policing. Not personal profit it must be stressed but nevertheless, in theory going after some crimes might be likely to generate more income for in pursuit than would other crimes. In the case of serious organised crime we might argue that they are all bad and worth going after, but it still raises questions about how policing decisions ought to be made.
No-one would weep if there was more money to catch more gangsters. But do we need to incentivise policing almost as if it was a market? And could this be a precedent? What other police activity might be seen to benefit from financial incentives? Maintenance of law and order is one of the great universal services a government has a responsibility to deliver, along with education and health.
So I doubt anyone will go to war over this proposal, well-intentioned as it is and valuable as new resources for tackling organised gangs would be. But that is perhaps all the more reason to pause and think about what signals this sends about universal policing and the prosecution of investigations based only on the significance of the crime and the likelihood of success.