Island Life by David Slack


More Crime, More Punishment

We really don't seem to have any kind of tradition of a perp walk in this country. Perhaps that's because no-one in law enforcement has to run for office: not the prosecuting lawyers, not the judge, not the arresting officers, not their superiors.

In America, they know how to do it with ceremony. Hands behind the backs, handcuffs on; three, two, one and roll camera. We know this because we watch the movies and CNN. You may know the perp walk from such news shows as Timothy McVeigh, the WorldCom ratbags and, if memory serves, that paragon of 21st century commerce, Jeffrey Skilling.

In this country, we do have that one guy who is manifestly a one-man crimewave. Hardly a week goes by that you don't see him taking his dozen steps from the police van to the lockup. He's always in his white overalls with the hoodie hiding his face from the cameras, and he never seems to stay locked up for more than a few days.

But that's not a perp walk.

We do get the determined purposeful strides of the defendants towards the courthouse, bibbed up in their best suit and tie. Some of them smirk, some scowl, some have their cousin and sister-in-law in tow. They manage to get in a few gestures for the camera and spit a glob of epithets at the camera crew, but that's not really a perp walk either.

Once in a while you get some real sport. Down goes Graham Capill under a rain of blows. See him whimper like a child, ponder the justice of the thing. Perhaps that constitutes a perp walk of sorts, even if it wasn't meted out by the authorities.

Wikipedia describes it as:

an intentional disregard for the privacy of a suspect, for the purpose of bolstering the image of law enforcement, to humiliate a suspect, or both.

I often wondered about the footage Amanda Millar managed to get of Morgan Fahey on his way into the Christchurch Police Station. I mean no disrespect to her estimable work in smoking out a slippery criminal, but exactly how did she know to have a camera set up across the road as he walked in for his chat with the detectives?

We seemed to be skating perilously close earlier this month to putting the justice system in the three-minute hands of the Six O'Clock news. You didn't need to have been to law school to see the flaws in that arrangement, no matter how touched you might have been by the liberation of The Dunedin One.

In America, they see some tension in the arguments. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Lauro v. Charles that perp walks staged solely for the media violate a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. But a couple of years later it held in Caldarola v. County of Westchester that if the perp walk has been undertaken as part of a legitimate law enforcement action (such as transporting a suspect from jail to a courthouse), then you haven't violated those rights. It might even do some good, the court thought - it might educate the public about law-enforcement efforts; it might enhance the transparency of the criminal justice system.

Here's one way to test it: how would you like it? Let's pretend for a minute you've had your fingers in the till for the past three years. How do you think you'll react when they come for you?

Back in my brewery days, we took possession of the De Brett's Hotel in Wellington from another division. There's a lot of paperwork to taking over a hotel. Stock-taking, chattel valuation, counting the teaspoons, meeting the staff.

There was a bloke, let's call him Adolf, who was not expecting any of this to happen. He was in charge of the stocktaking and the books, and he had a shameful secret, to the tune of about 20 grand in pocketed funds. He knew all the procedures and where to hide it in the books, but he overlooked one thing: once your pub is owned by Brierleys, there's no telling what will happen, or when. At any given moment, some bunch of twentytwo-year-olds in suits may descend on your pub and take it over.

The day we arrived, he knew the jig was up, but of course at that point, we didn't. About three days in, we got a phone call from one of the accountants. Could we come down? They were sitting in a musty store room at a pair of desks, the accountant and Adolf. Poor old Adolf was in his mid forties, and he looked about 60. He had an expression of completely unsurprised defeat, a cigarette in his shaky nicotine fingers.

We were all courteous to one another, in a slightly hushed way. It felt like a bereavement. We told him we had to tell the police; he told us he understood we had to. There was no raging, no invective, no fury, just a dismal sour sad feeling hanging in the air.

Some people, though, step up to the handcuffs with a spring in their step. If you don't believe me, just look at this remarkable collection of mug shot photos on The Smoking Gun.

Perhaps the offences were minor. Perhaps the perps were in a state of chemical adjustment sufficient to inure them to the pain of the moment. As you flick through them, you find a few sets of eyeballs that aren't what you'd care to see if you were to look over from the jumpseat to your Qantas pilot.

Mood-enhanced or not, they really do look peppy and chipper. Some people, I'll warrant, are just so cooperative and solicitous of your good humour that even if you're a cop, and even if you're about to stick them in a cell, they'll go on being courteous and good-natured. One of them even looks remarkably like he could be the founder of this very site. Could this be Mr Brown on his most recent sojourn to San Francisco?

Didn't he arrive back from that with a clean-shaven head? He's certainly a very obliging chap. I can just see him turning an arrest into a cordial ten minute interview on the state of Californian policing.

There's a precedent for this kind of thing. You don't have to push Barry Soper too hard to get him to tell you about the time he got bundled into the back of a squad car in LA with extreme prejudice. If he hadn't once been a police cadet in Gore, the poor bugger might never have got out of there, and they'd have had to find someone else to do the finger puppets on the telly. Given the way he's managing to smile in this clip, I reckon he'd easily be capable of a cheerful grin for the county jail.

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