Between the victim and the criminal

One problem. That’s not true, is it?

I’d like to thank you for this thread. You’ve reminded me of my moral obligation to my fellow humans and the society I live in. I am now going to be extra-vigilant and report anything I think might be a crime. But please send me a picture of your car and your home so I can eliminate them from my watch list. I certainly wouldn’t want my watchful demeanor to result in either item beiing saved from thieves or vandals, inadvertently offending your oh-so-finely-tuned moral sensibilities.

  1. There are many crimes without clearly defined victims.

  2. I’m not going to report every crime I see, or inform the authorities about every crime I see. Some crimes are simply too petty, too unimportant.

However protecting those that cannot protect themselves is a core aspect of my personal morality, it’s part of being a good person and a good citizen. Just because someone is being outwitted by a scam artist does not mean they deserve to be scammed. I will inform the victim first. And then no matter what I’ll inform the police if I was involved in a situation like this. I will say that in the case of scams talking to the victim first can help to make sure you don’t go to the police with some weird situation that actually wasn’t a scam. But, after talking to the victim I find that a crime was committed and the victim is reluctant to prosecute, I’m still going to report it to the police. I don’t like scam artists and I think it’s in my personal interest, as a member of society, to try and get them off the streets when the opportunity clearly presents itself.

Anyways, there is nothing wrong morally or legally with reporting to the police that you have suspicions, and then telling the police, factually, what it is you have observed. If the police run with your unfo and do a full investigation that is personally a hassle for an innocent person, that isn’t your problem. And no one is “in the wrong” police have to investigate after a certain degree of suspicion is present (after they’ve assessed the situation with their expert knowledge on crime.) Part of living in a society with law enforcement is recognizing that law enforcement is sometimes going to suspect innocent people of crimes. We’ve developed our legal system to make sure that if someone is innocent they have just about the best chance they can have of demonstrating that. And we’ve put the burden on government to prove guilt to try and remove most doubt from any criminal convictions.

I’ve been investigated by law enforcement before. No, it was not fun. But do I feel that what happened to me was something that warranted a law suit, or ruined my life? No, I don’t. I was investigated and I was innocent, law enforcement was doing their jobs, in that particular case the spotlight fell on me for a brief period of time. I’m glad that investigating a crime law enforcement were thorough, it sucks I had to be under the magnifying class for a month or so but again, I’m glad law enforcement was doing it’s job.

Now, if someone makes a false police report they should be punished. But in general someone should and ought report anything suspicious they see to the police. After that, the police can assess how credible something is. And if THEY go into a full investigation that was their decision, and is not directly being caused by the initial reporter. The police have expertise in crime, if they decide to actually investigate someone for a crime then there was actually a pretty good reason to do so, a good enough reason that NOT doing so would be contrary to the public interest.

If we take “crime” to mean “crime that should be reported”, then yeah, I think it is.

groman, I’m trying to fight down the suspicion that your favorite game as a kid was the back-seat version of “I’m not touching youuuu…” on long car trips.

You’ve got a couple themes going here that I think aren’t as tightly linked as you seem to believe: the ethics of reporting observed criminal behavior, and the right to mimic (but not actually perpetrate) criminal behavior unmolested. The best I can say about the former stance is that if you don’t watch out, you’re going to find yourself at the abandoned mine in a sans-head zombie costume and handcuffs, yelling “I’d have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!” But you’re getting punished enough on that. I’d like to address the latter issue, which I sense is your bigger concern.

You define “criminal behavior” as including especially copyright infringement, fraud and theft. I’m not sure where or if you limit the definition, but you seem to leave open the possibility that yelling “Help! Police!” if you come upon a strangulation-in-progress is still okay. Or maybe not; please clarify this. While you’re at it, I’d like some examples of your “peculiar behavior” that is often mistaken for the offenses you enumerated. Copyright infringement is often perpetrated through such overt acts as typing, photocopying and recording – not exactly the sort of eccentricity that gets described as “weird.” Similarly, fraud and theft are usually terribly mundane in their execution. The wild and crazy free-spirits I have known might have gotten in trouble for trespassing or loitering or disturbing the peace, but acting strangely never got any of them sent up for, say, embezzling. That’s more the province of your normal, buttoned-down, square-type guys.

While I wait for a description of the actions you “find yourself” engaged in that bring you unwelcome attention (by the way, does the choice of words mean that you find yourself unable to refrain from behaviors that resemble criminal acts?), I’ll speculate about your insistence that people who call the cops be liable for damages if the suspect turns out to not have committed a crime. We’ll call this the “Mommy! Suzie hit me even though I hadn’t even* touched * her!” theory of liability. While it would provide a risky but potentially lucrative income for those willing to engage in disruptive, threatening or otherwise provocative behavior short of actual lawbreaking, I don’t see a compelling need to elevate “public nuisance” to the status of a profession.

Here’s one crime, at least, that shoots the OP’s so-called plan of ethical behavior right out of the water:

What if the victim became one due to being murdered? It’s kind of hard for a dead person to make an accusation.

Ethical behavior, in my book, is not putting your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la” all the time. It’s behaving as a responsible member of the community.

Which crimes do you think should be reported? Which shouldn’t?

Crimes that should be reported by the victim: Where the victim believes to be hurt physically, emotionally or financially and also believes the perpetrator acted as described in one of the statutes or common law precedent that make the act a crime.

Crimes that should be reported by somebody besides the victim: When the reportee believes the victim was hurt physically, emotionally or financially and also believes the perpetrator acted as described in one of the statutes or common law precedent that makes the act a crime, and
a) the victim is aware of the acts but unable to report the crime due to duress, injury, incapacity or death.
b) the victim is unable to be aware of the acts due to duress, delay, injury, incapacity or death.
c) at the direct request of the victim.

Also to be complete, the reportee should always believe in the crime. For example, a person should never report an act commited on themselves or others if they strongly do not believe such an act should be a crime.

So if a pick pocket is taking my friend’s wallet I should just sit back and wait to see what happens?


You should tell your friend and bring attention to the situation. In fact, if my pocket was being picked, and you called the cops instead of bringing my attention to the fact, I’d probably be pretty angry.

This issue is ONLY about government authorities.

My curiosity drives me to ask this question: do you mean not actually criminal in the eyes of the actual law or do you mean that you personally don’t consider your actions criminal regardless of what the law actually says?

Ah, so if I know my neighbor is out of town and I see a bunch of people removing things from his property I should just ignore that?


Well if you’re certain he’s being bulglarized, you have no way to reach him, and you are reasonably assured that he does not want to be burglarized and would want you to contact the authorities on his behalf, then do so, please! (It’s covered by b) delay above, if you want me to remain consistent)

Not actually. I wasn’t necessarily referring to the legal definition of crime either. My most prominent and clear cut example was many many years ago in a public library. I was using a command line e-mail client, and a UNIX shell session on the library computer, a person next to me noticed what I was doing, and reported me to the librarian “for hacking”. I was informed by the library staff that “Whatever you were doing, it is not checking e-mail because that’s not what checking e-mail looks like, and it is certainly not appropriate at the library”. The computer priviliges then were removed from my library account and it took over a month and an angry letter to higher-ups to restore them.

Another time I spent 1 hour on a cold curb at 2AM while my friends car was searched for radiotelecommunications equipment because a similar looking car was used to mess with a fast food drive through a few blocks away earlier. Apparently somebody working the drive through saw us drive by the fast food place and called the cops on us thinking we were the perps. I didn’t give them attitude, but frankly, if I’m driving down the street and you want to know if I have any tattoos you should probably buy me dinner first.

Ah, so you don’t like the police doing their job correctly. Why didn’t you just say that in a Pit rant instead of the verbiose and bogus OP (and follow-on posts of yours) in this forum?

BTW, your example at the library fully fits in with your supposed system of ethics. The library was the victim of your using the library’s computer for something other than its intended purpose, according to the victim. Therefore you have no beef.

When did I say that? I can’t request the cops to not hassle random people based on crime reports - that in itself would be criminal. I can, however, ask people to think twice before calling the cops on somebody.

In case of the library, I wasn’t harming the library in any way (as the library itself must be aware), and the intended use of the computers IS what I was doing. The librarian was just a person of authority in this case, since she obviously did not have the resources or the knowledge to ascertain whether the library was harmed. So if the person sitting next to me, who I did no harm towards, decided to report me to the authorities (the librarian) on a hunch that turned out to be wrong, how am I to proceed in this case and bill her for the inconvinience she has caused me?

groman: I have a high regard for open and honest postings. I would appreciate the same from you.

You were not a random person. You were part of a group in a vehicle matching a suspect vehicle. The police were therefore doing their job: searching a vehicle with probable cause.

You do not know how many times the person making the complaint to the police thought about it. They could’ve called with just one though, or maybe four or five or more. The salient point remains that you were not a random person being harrassed by the police.

That’s irrelevant as the equipment is not yours and thus the use to which it is put is under the control of the person responsible for such equipment.

No. The librarian is the person responsible for the equipment.

Your inconvenienc is not billable. The person responsible for the equipment deemed that you were not using it appropriately and thus, exercising her responsibility, removed your privilege (not right, mind you) to use that equipment.

FWIW, a couple of libraries to which I’ve been in the past have posted that no programs will be run other than those resident on the computer already, which includes prohibiting anyone from running a command line. My guess, and that’s all it is so don’t freak out, is that the library concerned possibly had such a rule and you were thus flouting it.

Perhaps, in the interest of openness and honesty, you could acknowledge that in the library example, groman’s beef was with the stranger who reported him to the librarian, not the librarian herself. At least that’s how I read it.

If the command line (a vital part of every Windows installation) wasn’t resident on the computer already, how do you suppose he ran it?

There’s always an outside chance I might be wrong. It could be a relative moving stuff in and out of the house as per the owners request. Why should being mistaken preclude me from calling the police? As for your other point, do you know anybody who wouldn’t mind being burglarized? I’d be pissed off if someone said “We figured they were robbing you, but since you never told us you didn’t want to be robbed we just left well enough alone.” I just don’t see any merit to your position. How would this improve things?


Agreed and I thought I made that distinction clear. At any rate, the person reporting groman still fits under groman’s so-called ethics as groman’s described them in this thread.

Evidently, I was unclear. My meaning is that apparently the librarian considered using the “run” command inappropriate.