By: Lou Savelli
In high crime areas like New York City, Los Angeles, California, Newark, New Jersey, Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and so many other gang-infested cities across the US, it is often the rule rather than the rarity not to talk to the police when a murder occurs. Community members, often withholding information, fear retaliation and lack trust in the police. Even though their lack of cooperation, knowingly, will give way to more crimes and a deteriorating quality of life in their neighborhoods, many people still are reluctant to become witnesses or just provide useful information. Forensics, as real-life cops know, are only useful when you have a suspect and when evidence is collected. It’s not even close to TV! So what should the police do? Should they close out the case and add it to the many unsolved and cold case files or should they put into action other methods of case-solving, crime-fighting, strategies?
The truth remains that these violence-ridden communities still deserve commitment from their local police. And crimes left unsolved have a way of multiplying and spreading to other communities, even the quiet ones. Often, the more lawless a place becomes, the more dangerous it is for the police officers that work in those communities. This is a well-documented fact! Criminals become more brazen and dangerous when left unchecked. There are other considerations. The lack of trust by community members will be exploited by radical community activists with their own, not the community’s, agenda. The law abiding citizens will tend to feel mistrust and unsupportive of the police, especially when the newspapers and politicians blame the police for not solving crimes and allowing the gang members to conduct business as usual. The morale of the local police agency will gradually diminish when the hard work of the officers are viewed, by them, as futile and fruitless.
Strategy, Commitment, and Hard Work
Even with the occasional views of futility by the police officers working in high crime jurisdictions, coupled with the blatant lack of cooperation by the community, the right strategies, true commitment, hard work, and good old fashioned police work can be the ticket to solving homicides, violent crimes, and other types of crimes. In my experience, most police officers want to make the commitment and work hard to fight crime but it helps greatly when the strategies come from above. First line supervisors and command staff must set the stage by leading officers into the implementation of proactive strategies. These strategies should be aggressive, innovative, and focused while the hunt for the perpetrators must be relentless.
The first 24
First responding officers to the crime scenes should work the scene as if the suspect is right there and that witnesses will be compiled from the people on the scene. Although not every crime scene yields a positive ID on a suspect, there is usually some information that can assist in the development of a lead or information about a potential suspect. These first responding officers can protect and process the crime scene, canvass the areas for witnesses, identify video cameras, check EZ Pass/I-Pass and other Potential Suspect Identification Devices (PSIDs) that may have documented the suspect’s image or travels. Most of today’s public transportation systems, such as subways and buses, often require an access card that can be traced back to a suspect. And almost all of these systems have security cameras. The First 24 Hours is especially important since many perpetrators of murders will be seeking to flee the area and get way while the heat is on. The 24 hours are critical to capturing suspects, recovering evidence and locating witnesses.
Shake the trees
Hit the streets and shake the trees and you never know what will fall out. Traffic stops, field interviews, Knock and Talks, or any enforcement action, especially near the communities affected by homicides and other violence, can potentially result in the acquisition of a piece of evidence, a witness, intelligence or even a suspect. Aggressive enforcement actions are highly effective in gathering information leading to the solving of homicides and other violent crimes.
Debrief prisoners for information
I can’t say enough about debriefing prisoners and the value of extracting information from people arrested for crimes. Conducting debriefings of all prisoners is imperative, especially when those prisoners live within, or near, the area where the homicide occurred. Prisoners are usually seeking help for their ‘new arrest’ and trying to work deals to keep out of jail. This motivation is exactly what every street cop must exploit in order to gather information to help solve crimes.
Talk to, and Deploy, Confidential Informants
Many officers have registered confidential informants that they utilize for unrelated cases, especially drug cases, and those informants may have pertinent information on the recent act of violence or those involved (victim or suspect). Unofficial or unregistered informants can be just as valuable in assisting the police in developing information. These informants, regardless of their status, should be deployed to the streets to acquire any information that can assist in the solving of crimes, especially homicides. Also, officers should contact Parole and Probation and ask those officers to talk to their existing Confidential Informants and question parolees and probationers for the purpose of developing information.
Utilize Current Cooperators within the Jails and Prisons
Talk to existing Confidential Informants within the jails and prisons. Cultivate sources in the jails and prisons connected with the community. Even in jail, inmates can make phone calls to obtain information. The people on the street often talk to those in jails and prisons and keep each other informed. Many criminal acts in the street are initiated by criminals from behind the walls of a prison or jail. Work closely with corrections personnel in developing information and cooperators from behind the walls.
Utilize Tip Lines and Offer Rewards
Telephone, Text Message, or Email Tip Lines are effective tools in gathering information from the public but these lines must be advertised to the public. People must know how to call (text and email too) the tip lines and that their calls will remain anonymous. Reward money is always an effective way to stimulate cooperation from the public. Most criminals will give up their own mother for a reward. These tip lines have been effective tools for many major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Relentless pursuit of a suspect should be the norm. The longer you maintain interest and pressure, the quicker you’ll make things happen. People will come forward and you will start developing useful information. In every investigation, relentless pursuit should be deployed until every perpetrator is apprehended. Leave no stone unturned and leave no suspect unapprehended!
Prosecutor’s involvement and partnership
Prosecutors play an important role in homicide investigations and proactive police efforts to help solve homicides and prevent violent crimes. It is important for police to develop closer relationships that are more like a partnership with prosecutors rather than merely a case by case relationship. Police cannot truly be effective in their endeavors without the backing and assistance from their prosecutor’s office. Police officers need to work hard to develop this partnership because it will make their jobs easier and more effective. Police officers don’t have a choice about what they do when it comes to violence – they have to fight violence by using the laws they swore to uphold. Prosecutors are, sometimes, more concerned about conviction rates rather than the safety of the community and the police. With this in mind, it is so important for police officers to work hard at developing a close relationship with prosecutors so the prosecutor’s goals become the same as that of the police and, ultimately, the community.
Community resource cultivation
It is easy to say that the community does not trust the police and refuse to help solve crimes such as homicides but it is incumbent upon the police to better their relationships with the community for a host of obvious reasons. Community members have a stake in the safety of their community. They also place a degree of trust in the law enforcement officers and expect those law enforcement officers to keep them safe. In today’s environment, with all the negative press and overexposure to crime because of the press, it is harder to gain community cooperation. This means that the law enforcement officers in these communities must work harder to cultivate community members as a resource to identify, investigate and combat crime.
Media utilization is an effective tool to let the public know that a homicide has occurred. It often results in calls from witnesses and the acquisition of tips and investigative leads. Wanted posters, crimes stories, and police blotter sections in print media, radio, and television has consistently assisted police in solving crimes. Another important utilization for the media is the ‘advertising’ of police success stories. It is important for the police to release ‘good’ arrests and ‘police community’ events to build positive community perception because it leads to trust and better community assistance.
Fighting and investigation homicides should not be merely a responsive task. Proactive efforts are far more effective. Communities respond better to proactive law enforcement and expect officers to aggressively go after the bad guys. Of course, there are the radical activists who try to discredit police efforts as civil rights violations and prejudicial, but they are merely trying to promote themselves and their own agenda. They are doing so at a high cost to their own communities. While law enforcement officers should always endeavor to utilize safe, legal tactics, they should never be dissuaded from doing their jobs properly because the good people of the community need them.
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