Advertisement

Erasing Baltimore's stop snitching culture

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young talk to a Baltimore resident about crime that is affecting his neighborhood. (Hallie Miller, Baltimore Sun video)

We reached another low in Baltimore when a one-year-old and two-year-old were hit by stray bullets in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood last week. Criminals have become so callous and detached that they’ll risk the casualty of a small child to settle a beef. Not even babies are safe from harm in some of our crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Yet despite the tragedy of the crime and the outrage expressed by residents, Baltimore officials were met with a steel wall of silence when seeking more information on the culprits. As reported by The Sun, most residents wouldn’t even open their front door when Mayor Jack Young and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison went to the neighborhood personally to plead for cooperation. Baltimore’s stop snitching culture rears its ugly head again.

Advertisement

We can’t blame people for not wanting to roll over on anyone in such a highly visible way, and in front of television cameras at that. But the city’s insidious stop snitching culture has got to end if Baltimore is ever to come to grips with its crime problem. About one third of the criminal cases that prosecutors drop are because witnesses and victims wouldn’t come to court, and it’s time that everyone says that is unacceptable.

We understand that witness intimidation is a real and terrifying phenomenon for residents in violent neighborhoods run by drug crews. They’d much rather not get involved then face retaliation that can end up in death. But getting involved is exactly what more residents need to do to take back their neighborhoods.

At the same time, city officials need to do more to make residents feel comfortable taking the risk to do this.

» For one, the city needs to do a better job at making witnesses feel protected. The states attorney’s office has greatly expanded its victim and witness services programs, including opening a redesigned waiting room in the Mitchell courthouse to incorporate trauma-informed components that address the anxiety witnesses may feel before testifying. But until this year the witness protection program was largely underfunded and ran a deficit, meaning the office could only help so many people. Gov. Larry Hogan added more than $2 million in this year’s budget for witness protection in Baltimore, and hopefully that will go along way in protecting families. People aren’t going to testify against people who they may have to walk by every morning. We also need a strategy to convince more people to enter witness protection, even though it may mean leaving friends and family behind.

» Commissioner Harrison has already made it a priority to weed out corruption in the police force and mend relations with the community. He should continue to do that because if residents don’t trust officers, they’re not going to give them critical information to help solve cases. The department should put as many beat officers as it can in neighborhoods and not rely on specialized units like the Gun Task Trace Task Force that have been magnets for brutality and corruption. We we know this won’t occur overnight. However long it takes, we need it to happen because police presence will not only deter criminals but also help build a rapport with residents. It would also help for officers not to question people in the open.

» A recent report by the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center gave proof to what many people already know — investment in poor African-American neighborhoods lags far behind that in white neighborhoods. Rundown neighborhoods with no job opportunities are the perfect recipe for hopelessness and despair. Criminals don’t establish what are essentially open market drug corners in thriving neighborhoods or stash drugs in clean alleyways. Residents will fight harder for neighborhoods they are proud of and are vested in.

Residents also should not discount how they can help without identifying themselves. A good anonymous tip can give detectives much needed leads and is better than silence.

It is time residents, law enforcement and city officials devote all the resources they can into stopping witness intimidation and making cooperation with law enforcement the norm. Without the help of the residents of the city, Baltimore’s crime problem will always persist.

Advertisement
Advertisement