U.K. cop sting could bust you for bling

A 'Too Much Bling, Give Us A Ring' campaign poster

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: A lot of people are giving up luxuries because of the recession. And police in Britain are hoping that'll give them an edge that those living large on ill-gotten gains will stand out even more. Officers in the county of Gloucestershire in Western England have posted signs asking residents to report people with overly flashy lifestyles. Too much bling, the signs say, give us a ring. Christopher Werth has more.


CHRISTOPHER WERTH: About a dozen regulars down afternoon pints at Gloucester's Fountain Inn. Well-worn sweaters and comfortable jeans are the norm at what some say is the oldest pub in the city. There's little ostentation here, but proprietor Peter Rust reckons he knows bling when he sees it.

PETER RUST: I know exactly what bling is. We've all seen the American programs where the pimps are riding around in these golden, crusty Cadillacs and everything else.

But Gloucestershire detective Steve Burnside says bling means more than the kind of flashy stuff that you see in the movies.

STEVE BURNSIDE: Bling would be anything that would be of high value that wouldn't be attributable, we would say, to legitimate earnings, and it could be anything from a big fancy car to a big fancy house.

But Peter Rust and his bartender, Cath, view police asking people to rat on their neighbors just because they're wearing gold, or driving an expensive car, as yet another intrusion in a country that already has more security cameras than anywhere else in the world.

CATH: It's getting into Big Brother really isn't it? They can just turn it around, and she's got a lot of bling, he's got a lot of bling. They must be loaded with cash.

RUST: I said it's beyond 1984, George Orwell's book. We're not here to judge who they are, what they are.

Ben Bowling, a criminologist at King's College in London, fears not everyone will see it that way. He says the campaign encourages racial profiling.

BEN BOWLING: It's definitely racialized. There's no question about that. The idea of bling has kind of come from the hip-hop generation. You know diamonds, gold, $300 sneakers. And so the idea of using kind of street vernacular to identify those people who might be a bit too blingy for your neighborhood is, I think, to direct attention specifically to the black community, and that is a real problem.

Police say the campaign is meant to target anyone who displays excessive wealth. They say other British police departments have run similar campaigns with promising results. Hannah Daws of Crimestoppers, an organization that works with the police, recalls one in Leicestershire.

HANNAH DAWS: Within the first eight days of launching the campaign 24 people were actually arrested based on this kind of bling lifestyle, £54,000 worth of cash was recovered, and £195,000 worth of vehicles were seized.

That adds up to about $400,000, a handy injection of funds at a time when the economic downturn is emptying government coffers and squeezing spending on police departments. Police say it sends a clear message to the criminals. But cynics here say that message may just be a useful warning to the bad guys: "If you've got it, don't flaunt it."

In London, this is Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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