Since May 24, 19 people were shot in Hartford. As the total climbs higher and higher, the cries from the public and the media remain the same. "Everyone here has had enough." But how much is enough before people get involved? What will it take before the people who have had enough actually do something?
By doing something I don't mean standing around shouting into a bullhorn about how things need to change. I don't mean talking with reporters and telling them the police need to do something about all the mayhem.
By doing something I mean they need to start snitching.
The trend in Hartford and most cities rife with violence is for people embroiled in the violence to avoid cooperating with the police so they won't be labeled a snitch. T-shirts are worn by adults and teens publicizing this code of silence. Sports stars and rappers support it. Newspapers and TV stations run sensational segments on it. People are heard trying to justify their actions. The message is out that cooperating with the police is not an option.
People who are shot by someone they know refuse to tell the police who did it. Witnesses refuse to come forward and tell what they saw. Some teens say they would rather die than snitch and sadly, this is what is happening.
Two common arguments are heard to explain this failure to cooperate with the police. People claim to be afraid of getting hurt due to retaliation, or they contend that street justice, not the police, is the way to handle the matter. Both of these positions are unacceptable.
The act of refusing to help the police ironically keeps the people worried about snitching in a dangerous environment. By its silence, the community allows perpetrators to stay on the street and to continue to send bullets flying. Street justice or the seeking of revenge compounds the danger. Shooting someone who shot a friend adds to the violence, endangers innocent bystanders and perpetuates the fear in the city. This mentality that helping the police is bad must be overcome or the violence will continue.
The Hartford Police Department, like most city police departments, does the best job it can with the circumstances it is given. Faced with a shortage of manpower and the increase in violence, the burden on the hardworking officers grows. Even a full-strength police department is only as good as the citizens who help it.
As one police department motto reads on its cruiser, "Our best efforts need your help." The same rings true for the Hartford Police Department and the citizens it is trying to protect.
As a police officer, I cannot begin to tell you the value of information received from the public. CSI and other crime shows would have you believe that most cases are solved by forensics and wrapped up within the hour.
This is not the case. In my experience, far more crimes are solved because of cooperation by the victims, witnesses and others in the community. Coming forward and giving the police information can only help keep criminals off the street. Even if you feel the information may already be known or the police might not care, you should give it anyway.
Cooperation is the key. Until the citizens of Hartford are willing to tell the police what they saw, what they heard and what they know, the cycle of violence is doomed to continue.
With warmer weather still to come and the code of silence on the street, it's a good bet that the violence will continue. In the meantime, I'm going to get some T-shirts made up. Mine are going to read "Start Snitchin'."
Michael Bailey is a detective with the Enfield Police Department.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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