Why We Do It—Why do you?

On April 19, 1995, an Oklahoma State Trooper on routine patrol observed an old yellow Mercury being operated with no license plates. He stopped the vehicle and later arrested the driver. The trooper was just doing his job. Little did he know that his arrest would unfold to be the ultimate capture of Timothy McVeigh.

Why do men and women choose a career in law enforcement? The answer is easy, we do it because we care and we want to catch the bad people before they do bad things. Is catching bad people easy? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Trooper Charlie Hanger had no idea Timothy McVeigh was responsible for the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building. It was the trooper's training and experience that enabled him to observe a bulge in McVeigh's waist area. That bulge was a concealed weapon that led to his arrest.

I remember the year 1995 as if it was yesterday. This was the year I was assigned to the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division as an undercover detective. One of my first cases involved the stalking of a woman by her ex-boyfriend. He went to great lengths to terrorize her life. He impersonated a police officer to get her car towed, attempted to get her fired from her job by accusing her of crimes, committed computer trespass and sent emails disguised as if they had come from her.

I was eventually introduced to him as a potential hit man. He later hired me to torture, rape and then burn her alive while he watched. His arrest for solicitation to commit murder came as a great relief to his victim. I sat with her on the day he pled guilty to his crime. The joy I saw in her eyes that his reign of terror in her life was finally over is why I do this job.

This was also the year that I truly discovered one of the main motivators for why bad people commit crimes and is classified as one of the seven deadly sins, GREED. The latest face of this powerful motivation is Bernard (Bernie) Lawrence Madoff.

What if Timothy McVeigh was stopped before he made it to Oklahoma City? What if law enforcement could stop other crimes before innocent people become victims? We can if everyone works as a team. Have you ever heard the saying it takes an entire village to raise a child. It also takes an entire village to look after one another while raising that child. That's where you as AML professionals come into play.

Tips from citizens all over the world have led to the capture of perpetrators of crimes that include burglars, arsonists, fraudsters, murderers, serial killers and terrorists. They also include a vast array of other crimes. Those tips are pieces of the puzzle that law enforcement uses to solve these often complex crimes.

The quicker law enforcement can put the puzzle together the quicker we can make an arrest.

Tips from citizens come in many forms: from anonymous tips, to emails, to telephone call in's, to — yes you finally guessed it — Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). Look at it like this, crime is a form of war. The military use their tools to fight wars. Law enforcement uses police cars and firearms to combat crime. Law enforcement also uses computers, web sites, law enforcement databases and SARs in our everyday fight.

Your descriptions and data are your very effective weapons to aid in this struggle to combat crime. If it was not for your decision to complete a SAR, some crimes would go unnoticed. I know that your institutions require you to complete SARs and FinCEN requires financial institutions to complete SARs but please do not look at it as only a requirement.

Look at it like this, a man dressed in a very nice suit enters into your institution and wants to wire an amount of funds just under the reporting requirement to a part of the world that is on the watch list by the FATF. You look at this man and he smiles back and engages you in pleasant conversation. This person cannot be dangerous, just look at him, well dressed, educated and a very nice person. Well that is what people thought about Theodore Robert Cowell A.K.A. Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers of our time.

Your decision to file a SAR is based on what you think is suspicious. That decision could potentially lead to the capture of a Lone Wolf embedded in our society waiting to strike. That decision could not only protect your institution it could potentially protect your neighbor, a family member, your family, or an innocent family you have never met.

What is suspicious to you? The most important thing you can draw on is life experiences, your training, and your compliance experience. When a young officer is unsure what to do, he or she is taught to rely on and call upon senior officers for advice and guidance. Reach out to law enforcement for training. We want to protect and serve; all you have to do is call us.

Remember what I said earlier that it takes an entire village to protect that village. Until the day comes when we all work together to protect each other it is just you and me. Could SARs have prevented September 11, 2001? We will never know. But helping to prevent such horrific crimes through our work answers the question why do I do it. So why do you do it?

James (Jim) Cox, CAMS, Fairfax County Police Department, Supervisor Special Investigations/Narcotics, Money Laundering Unit, Fairfax, VA, USA, James.Cox@fairfaxcounty.gov

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