They busted a guy, finally, for burglary in our neighborhood.

A lot of people around here knew who he was; he was living in the neighborhood that he was stealing from.  On his days off from work, he would wait until mid-morning for his neighbors to head out, and then he’d start checking houses.  Anything of value he could carry away without attracting a lot of attention, he would just grab.  He kept some of what he took, and sold the rest online and at pawn shops.  Turns out he’d been doing it for a couple of years.

The cops got him because a few people in the neighborhood set up surveillance cameras in their homes just in case they got robbed.  The quality of those cameras nowadays is really good, so they had crystal-clear pictures and videos of this guy roaming around and taking things. They were able to connect the dots between stuff that he took with his online sales, too.

The police took several months to get their case together; it was really important to make sure the evidence was complete.  As they built their case, they talked to and worked with the suspect.  They kept him informed of the progress made in the investigation, and he cooperated with them by providing key information and details.  Once they were done and were ready to bring him down, they had meetings with him to discuss the best way to proceed.  After all, he’d stolen and sold tens of thousands of dollars of other people’s property.

In the end, they decided not to arrest and convict him because of the additional cost of bringing him to trial. Instead, the city charged him a $500 fine, sent him a letter warning him never to steal again, and made him sign a paper saying he accepted the terms of the settlement.  They didn’t make him give back any of the stolen goods, though, since most of that had already been sold or had the serial numbers stripped off.

So yeah, that ended pretty well.  Or… actually, that sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it?

Not surprisingly, I’m looking at the Standard Chartered mess that blew up this week.  It’s absolutely possible that they didn’t do anything wrong, of course; and I readily admit that recent news about a few other banks like HSBC, Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley… and, let’s see, RBS, Deutsche, UBS and the other “soon to be outed” banks involved in LIBOR fixing… oh, and Nomura… has slanted my assumptions against StanChart.

And I can understand that StanChart is freaked out and angry that a regulator from nowhere slammed them with a surprise action that has knocked them out of orbit.  But what I can’t understand is the shock and anger from other regulators that an agency had the temerity to simply stand up and scream, “J’accuse!” when they found something wrong.  

It brings up several fundamental questions, such as, “Why should regulators who are ready to act stand primly by year after year watching very little get done, in an environment where a small fine and a finger shake are considered effective deterrents to future action?  Why should regulators of a financial agency work closely with an accused company on settlement terms?  Why should a regulator tiptoe and genuflect around the companies they are supposed to actually oversee?”

Maybe the folks in New York got it wrong.  But I see agencies get it right and still fail to convict.  I see agencies accumulate evidence of major, serious ethical breaches, and proudly claim victory over evil by taking a couple of Benjamins from the wrongdoer.  

So if the only choices are, “Go ahead, put it on the table and bring these guys down,” or, “Let’s wait for more months or years to go by so the bank and the other regulators can arrive at a mutually beneficial settlement,” I vote for the table.  

Get evidence, arrest suspect, have trial, convict or exonerate.  Rinse and repeat.

If the regulators are wrong, Mr. Lawsky and Co. will probably never get a chance to jump the gun again, and something valuable will have been learned. If they’re right… then maybe we’ve created a new way to have enforcers actually do their job.

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