The Case Of The Vanishing Victim

As any faithful reader of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series knows, most successful police work is based not on spectacular new scientific devices nor on brilliant flashes of insight but on a patient, painstaking process of going from door to door, making countless inquiries, asking all sorts of questions, gathering seemingly irrelevant details, until finally the background of the crime becomes clear to the investigator and he recognizes whodunit and why.

Unfortunately, the way crime has developed in the United States, few police departments can afford that kind of patient attention to the details of every crime. And the various scientific devices that we have developed, which were such a success at the 1974 World Police Fair in Moscow, are much more helpful for gathering personal conversations of newspaper and television reporters than for finding out who has committed crimes. (The problem, you see, is that one has to know the identity of the person in order to hook him or his surroundings up to the sophisticated devices. But if one knows the identity of the criminal, one needn’t investigate him with sophisticated devices.) According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (the one business indicator that looks consistently “better” every year), crime continues to flourish. But finances are forcing cities to cut their police forces. Mayor Became of New York City has calculated the increased time it will take for police to get to scenes of crimes for every million dollars in extra money the city doesn’t get from banks or the federal government. (Protection racket? Surely not.)

There seems to be one promising way to deal with the rising crime statistics. Legislators and criminologists have ...

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