2006-01-12 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Crime — cashing in on a multi-billion dollar industry
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
Crime — cashing in on a multi-billion dollar industry

Our crack research department brought a, shall we say, rather delicate subject to my attention.

I’m not sure how this slipped passed the proper authorities, but it apparently did, and I believe it is a subject that needs to be addressed. If, as good journalists, we look at all situations with an unbiased view, and give every side of every story equal consideration and coverage, then, from the perspective of the criminal, crime has become one of the nation’s leading industries, and a business that our economy couldn’t survive without. I find this to be a little disturbing.

For instance, these Bureau of Justice statistics are, quite frankly, more than disturbing: Direct expenditures for police protection, judicial and legal services and correctional activities in 2001 in the United States cost the public a record $167 billion for local, state, and federal governments. That’s a lot o’ dough. And there’s more. If it wasn’t for crime, 870,000 police officers nationwide would be out of work. Crime employs one officer for every 370 people.

In other words, if criminals just stopped working, 870,000 people would be instantly looking for jobs. And what about people employed by the peripheral businesses directly related to crime? You know — security guards, lock manufacturers, burglar alarm companies, insurance companies, and a host of other products and services supported by crime would no longer be necessary.

Of course, we would need a police force to handle murders, domestic violence and other socalled crimes of passion, but those are a very small percentage of the crimes committed when you look at the overall picture. Most crimes are committed for profit. And the profits are huge for the criminals and the people chasing them. It’s as if one feeds the other.

For instance, according to U.S. government estimates, the drug business did a booming $60 billion dollars last year, and robbery victims lost approximately $514 million, while embezzlement grossed $27 billion, and Medicaid fraud alone cost taxpayers $40 billion dollars. These are staggering figures. However, the criminals spent all that money, adding fuel to the economy. Let’s face it — successful criminals live well, and many legitimate businesses enjoy the benefits of their successes.

Now, let’s not forget the one major business that could not do without crime — the business of law. Somehow, I can’t see Alan Dershowitz bagging groceries because he doesn’t have any clients. And I do not believe I ever heard of a lawyer in good standing waiting in line at the unemployment office. They have plenty of work if they want it.

One of the major reasons the criminal element does so well is that they have a huge publicity department and advertising program — it’s called the television and movie industry. Twenty-five percent of prime time television programming is crime related. And I don’t know where to start with the movies. Crime movies go back a long way.

If it wasn’t for crime, James Cagney would have had to make his living as a hoofer in vaudeville. Jack Webb of “Dragnet” fame would have bored himself to death with his sparkling personality, and Bruce Willis would just be another out-of-work bald guy.

Even the publishing industry would suffer heavy losses without crime. John Grisham would be making a living coaching gradeschool baseball. Sherlock Holmes would never have existed, and Elmore Leonard would be writing comedies — well, comedies that aren’t crime related.

I also find the new television shows, like “CSI,” to be absolutely mind-boggling. They offer criminals step-by-step instructions on how to better perform their tasks by demonstrating the latest in crime busting technology. It’s like a college course called Crime 101. And the unreality of the reality crime shows is that the good guys always win. Real criminals know this isn’t true. Most crimes are not solved. And the publicity given to criminals and criminal activity encourages their behavior.

The so-called icing on the cake, however, is the biggest perpetrator of all, white-collar crime. According to FBI statistics, white-collar crime costs the American public $300 billion annually, dwarfing all other larcenous endeavors. It is also the least legislated, penalized or enforced of all criminal pursuits.

And the way these crimes are described in the media makes the effort rather attractive. How many times have you heard news commentators say things like, “Finally brought to justice after two decades of bilking the public?” That means some criminal ran a successful business for 20 years before doing something stupid to get caught. And during that period, I’m sure he didn’t live like a pauper.

I’m not saying we should start a “support your local gangster” campaign, but since revenues generated by crime exceed our gross national product, I do think the way crime is perceived and glamorized needs examining. Our economy appears to be highly dependent on the success of the criminal element, or, it’s just a strange part of that system we can’t understand.

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