Crime Prevention? Or another step toward tyranny?

By Charles Bloomer
web posted November 22, 1999

The FBI has recently announced that it is restructuring in order to place more emphasis on crime prevention. In an interview with the Washington Post, FBI Deputy Director Robert M. Bryant said that his goal was to transform the FBI from a law enforcement agency to one that puts more emphasis on identifying threats and preventing crimes from occurring. The justification for this "sea-change" is to prevent terrorism and espionage.

But how does a law enforcement agency really prevent crime? Can the FBI prevent terrorism or espionage? Is it really the function of any law enforcement agency to prevent crime?

What the FBI is trying to do is something local law enforcement agencies have been trying to do for the past 30 or more years with questionable success. The concept is simple enough, and at first glance, seems to make good sense. Wouldn't it be cheaper, less painful, less disruptive if we could prevent crime from ever occurring? No one wants to be the victim of a crime. We could save valuable resources if policemen and prosecutors weren't so involved in post-crime activities. Case loads in the courts would decrease. Fewer people would be in prison. If we can come up with the right programs and educate the citizens, we should be able to see a reduction in crimes.

Like other seemingly simple concepts, crime prevention has turned out to be increasingly complex in its execution. More and more crime prevention turns out to be a blatant power grab supported with emotional hyperbole, with truth and reason completely ignored. The Constitutional rights of Americans end up being trampled in the stampede. If the war on terrorism and espionage turns out anything like the war on drugs, we have need to worry.

The tyranny of the war on drugs is a far cry from programs such as McGruff and Neighborhood Watch. Local authorities needed a mascot for their crime prevention efforts. McGruff was their answer. He was serious looking, tough, without being scary. Though not nearly as well-known as Smokey the Bear, McGruff provides a focal point for the police to get their message out to the population. The Neighborhood Watch program is an effort to get communities involved in crime prevention by keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. Neighborhood Watch is a tacit admission that the police can't be everywhere at once, preventing crime. Although there may be questions as to the effectiveness of these programs, they at least do not violate the rights of citizens.

Will the FBI's emphasis on preventing terrorism and espionage emulate the war on drugs? Will the FBI use "no-knock" searches conducted by ninja-clad swat teams? Are there plans to preemptively seize the assets of suspects using asset forfeiture rules, despite their dubious constitutionality? Will the FBI borrow from Connecticut's playbook and just go confiscate guns or fertilizer or diesel fuel from anyone they think might be a problem? Are Waco and Ruby Ridge the new FBI standards?

In reality, crime prevention by law enforcement agencies is not achievable -- at least not without violating someone's rights. Preventing crime requires an insight into a person's mind, a discernment of thought that is not humanly possible. The FBI intends to improve its ability to prevent crime by making better use of the information they collect and sharpening their "predictive intelligence". The FBI collects enormous amounts of information on Americans and foreigners. But no amount of information will enable them to predict the future - to read a person's mind and determine that that person is going to commit a crime. Even if they do determine that there is a high probability that a crime is going to be committed, how do they prevent it? Does the FBI intend to become "thought police" and arrest someone for thinking about committing a crime? Is a determined high probability on the part of some law enforcement agency going to be the same as probable cause? How well will that probability be vetted? Who will approve a preemptive strike against a potential crime? How will the FBI ensure that the rights of citizens are protected? Or is their war on crime more important?

What safeguards will be in place to prevent the politicization of the FBI as it tries to prevent crime? Where will they draw the line between potential internal terrorism and legitimate opposition to government policies?

The FBI leadership and policymakers are certainly sincere, caring people. They want to do their part to make Americans feel safe and secure. The FBI, along with all other law enforcement agencies, does not advocate violating the Constitutional rights of citizens. But Americans should not be lulled into a false sense of security. We should not believe that we will be safer if we allow the government or its agencies to crush our liberties as they become pro-active and pursue some impossible, utopian ideal such as crime prevention. The government, FBI, or local law enforcement agencies cannot prevent crime any more than they can protect any of us from crime. Each step we take toward surrendering our rights is a step closer to government tyranny.

Mind reading should be left to the psychics.

Charles Bloomer is a retired US Navy submarine officer who now lives in Northern Virginia. He can be reached at

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