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Home > Reviews > Crime


Author Robert Reiner

ISBN No 9780745660318

Review date 24/06/2019

No of pages 246

Publisher Polity

Publisher URL

Year of publication 07/06/2016


Crime, The Mystery of the Common-Sense Concept

Our Review


£ 15.99

Robert Reiner has come up with several books in one in his latest, called, simply, Crime. He opens with some concepts of crime, and shows (as according to the sub-title) that crime is anything but a 'common sense concept', even though it's long been a central part of popular culture. Is crime what the law says that it is? If so, why do people who would think of themselves as law-abiding try to fiddle their holiday insurer? Or fake their work expenses - to make more money for themselves obviously, never less!? Reiner then takes us through the legal, and the moral, side of crime, and deviance ('everybody's doing it' - is crime simply what abnormal people do, in the minority, not like us, the majority?).

Corporate security readers may want to turn straight to chapter four, titled 'how do they get away with it? the non-criminalisation of the powerful' which is up to date enough to quote from the 2015 downfall of the heads of the world's football body FIFA. Quoting the title of the film The Wolf of Wall Street, Reiner airs the question; have malpractices in corporate business become the new normal? Or was it always that way, and is it only that the media is talking more about corporate crime? Is there even such a thing as corporate crime, as it's so hard to pin an offender to a complicated and invisible crime? Or is something like the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987 an accident, a disaster, or a crime? Is adulteration or mis-labelling of food a fraud, a crime against consumers, or merely a food safety issue for the regulator? Reiner argues that elites are shielded from the stigma of criminal status, by a corporate veil: "Criminalisation remains the monopoly of the lower strata of society, the 'usual suspects' from the 'dangerous classes'.' Elites and the respectable are relatively immune from being seen as criminals; the poor and powerless are stigmatised.

What we think of as crime, Reiner argues, 'developed hand in hand with modern states and capitalism'. It's ever-changing, thanks for example to international law and (more to the point) international courts to enforce those laws. As Reiner sets out, crime then is about politics (who has power to influence the process, such as paying for a good lawyer, and those with political power define what crime is and isn't), and economics (police largely keep off private space, and keep to public space).

Reiner goes on to what this all means in terms of 'processed' criminals going through courts and prisons; and what the media has to say about all this. Reiner has put together and stirred a heady brew that draws on culture (the BBC TV drama about Dixon of Dock Green, contrasted with the swearing, drinking police detectives nearer the present), academic studies and their theories, and statistics. Reiner correctly states that 'criminal statistics are notoriously riddled with pitfalls', because they are incomplete and biased. I would suggest here that Reiner could go further than point to the 'dark figure' of crimes not reported to or recorded by police. In fairness, you can hardly say anything worthwhile about what you don't know and cannot count; but you could make some effort to look into what the 'dark figure' is. Reiner however is not drawing on original research but on the work of others and indeed stories in the news. Reiner sums up: "The criminal justice process is essentially an apparatus for processing some offences predominantly by the poorest and most powerless sections of society, mainly against victims who are also deprived and powerless." Reiner adds that the system is 'reinforcing massive social injustice; yet overlooks the fact that he only just mentioned; that the victims of crime are 'deprived and powerless' - neighbours of robbers, the old and young and otherwise vulnerable; and these people welcome prison sentences for criminals, gating of alleyways, product marking of their possessions, CCTV in public spaces and so forth. And Reiner doesn't dwell on the point that if the official stats are so limited, criminals are getting away with far more (and who can say how many more?!) crimes than they are actually sentenced for!? Where's the justice in that, professor? And what do you mean when you say most criminals are 'factually guilty' (page 197). Have you ever been the victim of a retail robbery, to know what 'factual' feels like to a crime victim?!

As admiring other academics say on the back of the paperback, Reiner brings together a vast amount of literature, and makes a compelling case; but only compelling from safe inside the walls of his institution, the London School of Economics. A Robert Reiner who makes a case from experiences inside a magistrates court or police custody centre or monitoring centre control room; that would be even more worth reading.

Also Reiner - like the rest of us - is at risk of becoming faintly behind the times, as he has little to say about cyber-crime, which is where what we could call traditional crimes are moving (including the corporate ones). For that reason I fear that he has fallen for the Coalition and now Conservative Government line that crime is falling ('the drop in mainstream recorded criminal activity is undeniable', page 194). What though of the computer frauds, that are in the millions, a trend and a type of crime that police admit that they cannot arrest their way out of? Reiner seems not to be alert to the possibility that a criminal justice sector in austerity is (and admits it, too) 'managing demand', which is a polite way of saying, it's made it harder for people to report so-called low-level crime, including computer-related or online crime, that is, the very sort of crime that is bothering people.

Reiner rounds off by wondering at the 'mystery' why it is that at least some of the powerless vote Tory, enough to keep the right-wingers in power. This is plain snootiness from the LSE. Part of the reason, he suggests, is 'the reality that conventionally defined crime does indeed harm vulnerable victims' (finally! a recognition of the real world of fear of assault in single-crewed shops and on public transport, and online and telephone scams against the innocent!). Partly, he goes on, the media helps to whip up 'popular hatred of the luckless losers of the criminal justice lottery', who go to and from prison in a 'self-perpetuating loop', that can never control crime, but is part of the 'scapegoating processes diverting anger and hate away from the economic and political elites'. Yet the elites, the so-called 'one per cent', 'are responsible for much greater harms than those committed by the deprived, serious as some of those are. The crimes of our times are those of capital.'

- Robert Reiner's The Politics of the Police was reviewed in the March 2012 print issue of Professional Security magazine.