BURGLARY AND ITS PUNISHMENT.
THE murder of a constable by burglars, who evidently came to their work quite prepared to take life, if they were interfered with either by the police or by the owner of the house, is only one among many incidents which show that society is confronted by a new peril. Until lately, property has been in danger and life has been in danger, but they have commonly not been in danger together. Murder has not been regarded simply as an ordinary condition of successful bur- glary. Now, the intending thief arms himself as naturally as though he were a soldier marching to battle. He depends for his chance of escape not so much on superior cunning or superior swiftness, as on the awe which he hopes to inspire by the knowledge that he carries a revolver. This is certainly an uncomfortable state of things, and we are rather surprised that it has not created more uneasiness. Perhaps a burglary, like a railway accident, is a thing which no one can conceive as happening to himself, until he has actually experienced it. Englishmen have not yet been seized with the panic which the discovery of a new weak place in our civilisation usually excites in them. If this apathy removes the motive-power which strong feeling con- stitutes, it is at all events a security that in seeking for a remedy we shall not be carried away into any ill-considered or violent action. Usually, in matters of this kind, the Press has to moderate public sentiment ; in the present instance, it has rather to stimulate it. There can be no question that the growing habit of living out of town, and of keeping costly objects of one kind or another in the house, has increased the temptation to burglary, by increasing the facilities for commit- ting it. A house in a London street may be tempting enough in one way, but the knowledge that the policeman's bull's- eye is cast on it so many times in the course of the night, and that his rattle will either bring help, or put difficulties in the way of escape, is a great check upon a burglar's enthusiasm. He can count upon shooting one policeman, but he cannot count upon shooting several, and getting off after all. In the suburbs of London, on the other hand, there are numbers of houses of which the contents are as attractive as those of a London house, while the police protection is little more than nominal. Once in a way a solitary policeman strolls up the carriage-drive, or looks over the fence at an inconvenient moment ; but if he can but be shot, the danger is pretty well averted. There is no one to take up the pursuit, and the thieves get off quite easily. The revolver has really answered the end for which it was bought. It has killed or disabled the one possible pursuer.
The simplest mode of dealing with this new form of burglary would be to raise the suburbs of a great town to a level in point of security with the great town itself. If there were as many policemen on Kingston Hill or at Balham as there are in Cavendish Square or Eaton Place, the peculiar temptation which the suburban district now offers would be removed.
There would be the same feeling on the part of the burglar that, though he might escape from one constable, he could hardly hope to escape from a dozen. Unfortunately, though this would be a simple mode of meeting the difficulty, it would also be a costly one ; and the majority among the rate- payers, who have no particular cause to fear the burglar's visit, would probably decline to be taxed for the benefit of those who are conscious that they have a good deal to lose. It would be possible, of course, to levy the additional police rate on houses rated above a certain value, but the principle of an impost being voted by one class and paid by another is not one that we are anxious to see ex- tended. An extra police force would be useful for other pur- poses than the prevention of burglary, and the poor rate- payers might become even too solicitous to give their rich neighbours this particular kind of security. This objection would not apply to an arrangement by which a certain number of householders might apply to the Home Secretary and obtain the services of an adequate number of policemen, whose duty should be confined to the protection of these particular houses. The cost would be borne by the rich ratepayers, but it would be levied on them at their own request. This plan, however, would only apply to comparatively populous neighbourhoods, and many of the houses which need protection are too isolated to get it from the police under any system that can be devised. We are thrown back, therefore, on the old method of making the deterrent force reside rather in the consequences that will follow upon the crime if committed, than upon the physical obstacles to committing it. These consequences must be of two kinds,—those which relate to the detection of burglary, and those which relate to its punishment. If the burglar could be made to feel that the chances of ultimate escape were very few indeed, and that if he had used or carried fire - arms the punishment, in the event of his being taken, would be very much more severe, he would pro- bably be a good deal less willing to run the double
risk. There are objections, no doubt, to a system of police surveillance ; but then there are greater objec- tions to a system of successful burglary by men with re- volvers in their hands. The burglar is not so often found try- ing to get an honest living, and seeing one effort after another defeated by the interference of the police, that we need be very chary of subjecting him to special supervision. If it were made part of the punishment for burglary that a man convicted of it should for a long course of years be obliged to re- port himself at fixed intervals to the police, and that his dwelling should be open to their visits without notice, this penalty alonq might exert a deterrent effect of some force on the commission of the crime. No doubt he would plead, and sometimes plead with justice, that his peculiar relations with the police made it difficult for him to get or keep employment. But then, the knowledge of this difficulty would be a powerful dissuasive from the commission of a crime which would bring a man into these relations with the police. It is not for transgressors to complain that their way is hard. A man subjected to close police surveil- lance for simple burglary would not find it easy to add murder to a second burglary without being at once suspected. Of course, he would still be at liberty to commit murder on the occasion of his first burglary, but tha inducement to this might be lessened by making the punishment for a burglary in which fire- arms had been carried even without being used very much more severe than the punishment for a burglary in which they had not been carried. Suppose, for example, that the men at whose hands the policeman at Kingston Hill met his death had known that if they were caught, and if revolvers were found upon them, or found under circumstances which left no reasonable doubt that they had only been thrown away when capture was imminent, they would have been sentenced to penal servitude for life, they would probably have thought it better to have left their weapons at home: While it is desirable, no doubt, to put a stop to burglary irk any form, it is especially desirable to put a stop to it in the form in which it is associated with murder. In order to do this, it is not enough to punish the murder when committed. The possession of the weapons which suggest and lead to murder must be visited with penalties so heavy as to
make the risk of being found with them greater than any possible advantage that the possession of them can confer. For once that a burglar owes his escape to the use of his revolver, he is probably caught several times in circumstances which prove that he has set out on his errand with a revolver about him. If a long term of penal servitude for "lurking with intent and with firearms" were the penalty, the advan- tage of carrying a revolver would be very much lessened. As a burglar is not likely to encumber himself with firearms which he does not mean to use, there would be no ground for fear that we were punishing a light offence with undue severity.