Gateways to crime
By 06/15/2000 00:00:00
Ellis County Press
ELLIS COUNTY - Are small offenses frequently a gateway to crimes of a more serious nature by the offender? ---- Sadly, this is often the case, say four area peace officers when posed with this question by the Ellis County Press.
Though the question and its answer might appear simple and obvious, the officers responded with knowledgeable insight and opinions based on years of professional experience.
Chief Deputy Charles Sullins of the Ellis County Sheriff´s office, a thirty-two year veteran of law enforcement, emphasized a critical point: 'The offender´s conscience relaxes with the repetition of smaller crimes until the conscience is no longer a factor.'
Sullins said he often takes a victim´s view of a small crime. 'The theft of a fountain pen might be of little consequence to some people, but the stolen item might have personal meaning to the victim. For example, it might be a treasured gift from a loved one now gone.'
Sullins stressed that parents are the first line of defense for crime prevention. He recalled a case from years ago involving a 14-year-old girl who deteriorated morally from an award winning student to a 'doper' who shoplifted and sold her body to afford her habit.
Chief Sullins pointed out the girl´s parents engaged in an all too common lifestyle; They worked, went out on the weekend, and engaged in numerous personal diversions, all the while ignoring the child while she longed for attention and self esteem.
He added 'When the girl got into trouble with the law, the first thing the parents said was ´Where did we go wrong?´ Unfortunately, I have heard that statement many, many times.' Police Chief Stephen Sparks of the Palmer PD said he realizes the importance of enforcing small violations. He said 'Obviously, we have to put out priorities on major offenses, but crimes of a minor nature are important too.'
Gasoline 'drive offs' (thefts) recently became so common in his area Sparks had to give it some serious attention. Many law enforcement agencies are overloaded with other cases and have little time or resources for such matters as gas theft.
Police Chief Dillon Pfeifer of the Ovilla PD said he believes the so called 'victimless crimes' frequently serve as a gateway, leading offenders to graduate to more serious violations.
Pfeifer said 'I consider such offenses as marijuana possession, prostitution, gambling, teenage smoking, and drinking a far greater risk than the public generally conceives. I believe these offenses break down the conscience of the offender, and an effective conscience is a strong deterrent to crime.'
Sue Finch, inspector for the Ferris PD, said she has observed many career criminal who began by simply yielding to small temptations.
Finch said 'Young offenders often start by committing thefts within their own home, and this needs to be taken seriously. Children who steal money or even cigarettes from their parents often progress rapidly to shoplifting.
'I suppose it is true that all thieves feel entitled. After they are involved in enough thefts, even small ones, they actually begin to believe your property is their own. They justify their actions by rationalizing that something in their life was unfair and somehow--for some reason--they are deserving of what they steal.'