Does the cost of policing affect what laws are enforced?
I’d (naïvely?) imagined that there would be some kind of institutional firewall in place, analogous to the division between advertising and content in a newspaper, or the various Chinese Walls inside financial firms. That is, that decisions on which types of crime to pursue would be separate from decisions about how to pay for it.
Is that not the case? Brooke Magnanti (belle de jour) writes:
Another way in which opposing sex work brings financial benefit is through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Police know, for instance, that if a brothel owner is prosecuted, since running a brothel is illegal, any money and property retrieved from the ‘crime scene’ becomes theirs. When police resources are limited, does the temptation of profit possibly influence victimless crimes being prosecuted more vigourously than they otherwise would?
It’s impossible to know for certain, but one can imagine plenty of situations in which police – with restricted time and money – must make choices: unknown violent criminals who may be difficult and expensive to catch, or women technically breaking the law standing right in front of you, with cash assets?
Similarly, there’s a debate about the cost of evicting travellers from Dale Farm:
The cost of evicting travellers from Europe’s largest illegal camp could spiral to £18million, councillors have revealed.
The occupants of Dale Farm in Crays Hill, Essex, have threatened violence if bailiffs move in, pushing up the bill to remove them from £3.5million just 18 months ago.
Basildon Council has set aside £8million for the operation – almost a third of its annual budget – while Essex Police has a £10million ‘worst-case scenario’ fund.
Despite the huge cost, Tony Ball, leader of the council is determined to press ahead if the families choose not leave by their own accord.
Mr Ball said: ‘No one wants a forced clearance of this site and we have spent ten years asking the travellers to work with us to seek a peaceful resolution.
‘However, it is important the law is applied equally and fairly to all people and if we do not take action in this case, we would have little moral right as a planning authority to take action against future unauthorised developments.
So it sounds like the cost of enforcement is taken into account in policing decisions, whether at the level of the police themselves or their political masters. Is that the case? If I break the law in some way that’s expensive to identify, can I expect to get away with it?