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The Crime Commission

August Vollmer, erstwhile crime expert de luxe of Berkeley, Cali`fornia, but just recently of Detroit, Michigan, where he has been engaged at $1000 per month on the order of our so-called reform mayor, Johnny Smith (that's the English of it), has disappeared into the great distances. He left in Detroit a distinct though odorous impression.

Before taking a Pullman or jumping the bumpers, to accept another tempting offer, he caused to be written a report of his findings of the Police Department and incidentally a criticism of the Judges who adorn the Recorder's bench. Three months he tarried, then with three thousand iron men, departed.

In speaking of the judges who have to do with the enforcement of criminal law, he said:

"When emotionally unstable, egotistic eccentrics and political programmers are elected to serve in a judicial capacity, the people must expect to pay dearly for their folly. Nor shall they be disappointed.

"When thousands of cases are held up awaiting trial and hold-up men, murderers, burglars and prostitutes are permitted to roam the streets because unfit persons are occupying the bench, it is impossible to control crime."

It should not be forgotten that Vollmer like King Ben, has a cultured soul-or is it only a pseudo-culture which seeks its natural outlet with an ardor priced at $1000 per month. Not to Vollmer nor any one else is it possible to be the perfect judge. Was it Plato who said on one occasion after a harrowing experience gathering knowledge and accumulating experince

The perfect judge could go face to face before God

Before the perfect judge heaven and hell shall stand back.

Speaking of Detroit, Cicero, Chicago, Herrin, New York, New Orleans and Miami, Herr Vollmer has located a crime wave which he does not know just what to do with. He opines that among the busy marts of life and commerce, along the crowded highways, crime is rampant and banditry is rife. Rumors of this condition have even crept into the newspapers which tell, unless restrained, of the perforation of jewelry merchants by vagrant bullets of would-be James Boys, or the playful looting of cigar stores or gasoline filling stations.

What's the remedy-how to curb this cyclone of crime; what panacea can or should an outraged citizenry provide? What else but a crime commission. Happy thought.

Thus, whether the problem is a crime wave or a heat wave, the way

to handle it is by the appointment of a commission. Just at present the Quiz and the Probe are going out of fashion and the Crime Commission is coming in. Every community that can boast of more than twenty-five thousand inhabitants-or even if it cannot boast of them, so long as it has them—is setting up a crime commission composed of substantial, representative citizens, to study the problem in a serious way, with the view as we stated before of engaging Vollmer.

The personnel of the commission is most important. It should be small enough not to be cumbersome and sufficiently un-informed not to be meddlesome. There should be a few ladies on it for, after all, does the problem not affect each and every one of us? Criminologists, with their preconceived notions, are apt to be ambarrassing, sociologists have been known to entertain rather extreme ideas. There is nothing like the absence of previous training and experience to guarantee the unbiased impartiality of an investigation.

The first step after the newspapers have published the names, photographs, and pedigrees of the appointees is the designation by the chairman of the army of stenographers, secretaries, investigators,, and other supernumeraries that necessarily accompany a well-organized commission. The commissioners themselves serve, of course, without compensation. Drafted into the public service is the phrase. It is a political axiom that whenever you find a governmental job being done by volunteers in the interest of economy and retrenchment somewhere in the offing will be found a retinue of paid accessories who are going to set the public treasury back a pretty penny.

The crime commission is now ready to function. Public hearings are commenced, subpoenas are issued, reporters, camera-men, and special writers crowd into the auditorium, speeches are made; crime is on the


There is one citizen, however, who seems strangely unaware of what is going on. You would think that any criminal who had a decent respect for governmental agencies, a proper regard for the amenities of a civilized community would forthwith abandon his nefarious career and settle down to a life of honest respectability. Possibly the criminal does not read the right newspapers; perhaps he is just a mean old spoil-sport who knows all about what is being done in his behalf and doesn't care.

Every crime commission should have at least one ex-convict on it. After all, criminals are human; they like those delicate little attentions and courtesies that mean so much to the rest of ous. We do not doubt that many a yeggman and bank burglar, in the peaceful seclusion of his rustic cot to which he retires after a day of arduous yegging and burglary, has read wistfully through the list of appointees to a crime commission and

has grieved to find none of his own profession on it. Ours, as someone has splendidly said, is a representative government. It seems no more than fair that the class most directly concerned with the subject of the inquiry should have a voice in the deliberations of the commission.

It may be urged that the presence of one having expert, first-hand knowledge of his subject, might interfere with that complete open-mindedness and stern judicial impartiality that is so greatly to be desired. As every student of our judicial processes knows, there is nothing that causes bias so much as information. On the other hand, this disadvantage would be more than offset by the moral effect upon the criminal fraternity of the appointment of one of their number. And no effort to cope with the crime situation can be completely effective without the whole hearted support and co-operation of the criminal himself.

This is a point frequently lost sight of. Suppose, for instance, that crime commisison should find, as it always does, that the penalties fixed by law are not severe enough, and that increased sentences would have a deterrent effect upon crime. This may undoubtedly be sound penology, sound sociology, and sound psychology, but it is not going to work unless the criminal is willing to be deterred. Some burglars and hold-up men have been known to be quite pig-headed about that sort of thing. And what use is all the kind thought and devoted effort spent upon the subject of crime by these amateur criminologists unless the crooks and thieves have the decency to play the game?

The way it ought to work is something like this: Lefty McGoofus is about to depart to his daily toil. He bids his wife an affectionate farewell, and kisses the kiddies tenderly good-night. In his capacious pockets is distributed the impedimenta of his profession: his black-jack, his automatic revolver, his chloroform vial, his black mask, and possibly a can or two of nitroglycerine. Mr. McGoofus is gay and lighthearted; he is about to embark upon the crime of robbery in the first degree.

He hails a taxicab and purchases a newspaper on the way. What is this that greets his horror stricken gaze? "The Governor," he reads, "has signed the Jones Bill recommended by the Foolish Crime Commission, increasing the punishment for robbery in the first degree from twenty years' imprisonment to forty." Mr. McGoofus pauses and reflects. Twenty years he can, as the underworld argot has it, "do on his ear," but forty years is something else again. He descends from the taxi, leaving behind his automatic, his black-jack, and his other felonious accessories, resolved to lead a more virtuous life in the future, in the comparative security of robbery in its second and third degrees. Thus is iniquity deterred and the wisdom of the criminologists vindicated.

Then, too, there is the matter of prison reform. There is a popular

impression that our penal institutions are constantly besieged by eager hordes of criminals vainly endeavoring to break in. A state prison is pictured as a sort of poor man's country club, and its delights are contrasted with the drab squalor of the congested sections of the large cities. Pleasant, flower-lined paths wind through the grounds, and the merry voices of the inmates ring out as they disport gaily on the tennis courts and croquet grounds. There is a glee club, and even a brass band. In the evening when the lamps are lighted and night has fallen on the kindly gray walls of the old prison, kindhearted people come up from the city to entertain the inmates with music, plays, and motion pictures. Then what jollity, what merry laughter resounds through the classic halls! The lights are extinguished; each convict is tucked tenderly in his little bed; only the rippling of the waves beyond the walls and the protecting tread of the sentry within breaks the stillness of the night.

Despite this idyllic picture, the professional criminal, with the curious moral astigmatism of his class, seems to have a strange and unreasonable prejudice against incarceration. The lure of free movies leaves him cold; the glee club and brass band fail to exert those charms that are proverbially believed to stir the savage breast. The felon who is in wants to get out, and the felon who is out wants to stay out. This, of course, is contrary to all current theories and is one more striking instance of the failure of the criminal to co-operate with the reformer.

The criminal has his human side: he is kind and devoted to his family; in fact, he once had a mother. The criminologist should not forget this. The criminal is the last surviving individualist battling against the engulfing wave of a communal civilization. Properly diverted, his energy, his audacity, and his predatory instincts can be utilized as potent instruments of contemporary society. But he must be met in a spirit of friendly cooperation. Then will the millennium draw near; the rubber hose of the policeman will be placed in camphor and the penitentiaries will be converted into art galleries and public libraries.

Forced Confessions

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The Supreme Court of Mississippi has re-affirmed and in a most unambiguous way, the ancient doctrine of the common law that "every man is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by a judgment of his peers,"doctrine that is as old as the common law itself. Yet in America there is no principle of the law more openly flouted, that has less respect of law enforcement by officers than this. Before adverting upon our law officers' disrespect for the law, we might give a short sketch of its history. Heineccius, the old German jurist, went deeply into this subject and he has some observations upon it that are very valuable, especially as they have been confirmed by experience and observations.

"Confession," he says "is sometimes the voice of conscience. Experience, however, teaches us that it is frequently, far otherwise. There sometimes lurks under the shadow of an apparent tranquility an insanity which compels men readily to accuse themselves of all kinds of iniquity. Some, deluded by their imaginations, suspect themselves of crimes which they have never committed. A melancholy temperament-the tædium vitæ and unaccountable propensity to their own destruction, urges some to the most false confessions, whilst they are extracted from others by the dread of tortures, or by the misery of the dungeon. So far from being the fact that all confessions are to be attributed to the stings of conscience, it has been well said by Calphanius Flaccus, 'even a voluntary confession is to be regarded with suspicion.' And by Quintilian's suspicious insanity is inherent in the nature of all confessions.''

.Dr. Southwood Smith, in his Lectures on Forensic Medicine (London Judicial Gazette, January, 1938), relates some facts that strangely corroborate the words of Heineccius. "In the war of the French Revolution," says Dr. Smith, "the Hermione, a frigate, was commanded by Captain Pigot, a harsh man-a severe commander. His crew mutinied and carried the ship into an enemy's port, having murdered the captain and many of the officers under circumstances of extreme barbarity. One of the midshipmen escaped, and by whom many of the criminals who were afterwards taken and delivered over to justice, were one by one identified. Mr. Findleson, the Government Actuary, who at that time held an official situation at the Admiralty, states: 'In my own experience I have known on separate occasions more than six sailors who voluntarily confessed to having struck the first blow at Captain Pigot. The men detailed all the horrid circumstances of the mutiny with extreme minuteness and perfect accuracy. Nevertheless not one of them had ever been in the ship nor had so much as seen Captain Pigot in their lives. They had obtained by tradition from their messmates the particulars of the story. When long on a foreign station, hungering for home, their minds became enfeebled, and they actually believed themselves guilty of the crime over which they had so long brooded, and submitted with gloomy pleasure to being sent to England, in irons, for judgment. At the Admiralty we were always able to detect their innocence in defiance of their own solemn asseverations.'" In England about the year 1845, a gentleman of high social position, brought suit against his wife for divorce; her friends and family believing in her, took her defense and the inquiry lasted some four years, the inquiry

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