You probably wouldn’t feel very good about it.
But that’s the situation that apparently arose when the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was trying to solve a serious case, but needed information from a lower-level criminal who apparently had something of a “get out of jail free” card, unless a violent offence occurred.
Thursday, an independent investigation by the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) determined that three senior RNC officers should not be charged for obstruction of justice for telling surveillance officers not to charge a person they had under surveillance, even if that person committed serious property crimes.
The report that SIRT provided is so sparse on detail as to be almost skeletal: none of the officers are identified, nor is the subject of the investigation or the particulars of the crimes committed. Nor is the type of “serious and significant organized criminal activity” the trade-off was being made to solve spelled out.
The report does say the subject committed serious driving offences that could have put the public at risk, and police decided to neither stop nor arrest the individual, for fear of letting the subject know about the surveillance.
As well, police who were watching “observed the subject as a party in two serious property offences.”
When they asked their superiors about taking action, police officers came away with the decision that, according to the report, “given the seriousness of the offences involved in the RNC investigation, the RNC investigation took priority over ‘property offences.’ They determined non-violent offence would be tolerated, but if the subject were to do anything violent, that officers should intervene.”
Two weeks later, the subject was identified as “committing a third serious property offence.” Police officers were told by one of their superiors not to charge the subject.
That didn’t sit well with the officers who were being told to stand by; as the report outlines, “Simply put, they observed an individual committing criminal offences and they were being told not to investigate or intervene.”
The short version is that the investigation determined that the senior officers acted in the public interest — though, the investigator said, with each passing serious offence, that decision would be harder to accept.
Investigations aren’t always straightforward, and sometimes, police stand by and watch small criminal fish to catch bigger ones.
You might be able to understand that — unless, of course, your personal property is part of the bait. It might not be criminal, but was it an ethical course of action?
Being an unknowing means to an end can’t make anyone feel very good.