ST. LOUIS – Children were dying, the community was collectively incensed, and police needed answers and suspects. When initial investigations came up dry in a series of child shootings in the city over the summer, the posting of a large reward was the next step for city officials.
To this point, the promise of more than $25,000 dollars has not been enough to bring a witness forward.
Many believe the issue is a reluctance by people in the African-American community to talk to law enforcement in these situations. The narrative from police has been consistent for weeks: “Someone must know something.”
The hope has been that the reward, combined with the anonymity offered by CrimeStoppers, would be enough to generate leads. But some argue the distrust among many African-Americans of the police extends to CrimeStoppers. While the promise is one of secrecy, many don’t trust it will be kept.
Then there’s the “no snitching” code and culture among blacks, much like the perceived “blue code of silence” among law enforcement officers.
“Until that relationship changes between the community and the police, we will still have this code of silence in our neighborhoods,” City Treasurer Tishaura Jones said in a recent interview with MetroSTL.com.
Jones and others have also discussed the fear of retaliation many potential witnesses carry.
One city resident who didn’t want to be named in this article said, “It doesn’t matter how much money it is, it isn’t worth my life or my family’s life. Who’s going to protect us?”
Sometimes, potential witnesses don’t talk because they are bent on retaliating themselves, according to some police accounts.
The lack of witnesses often leaves police to rely on other methods, most notably, old-fashioned investigating. Detectives have to detect, investigators investigate, and police, police.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department says there are weekly meetings with department members, local agencies and federal partners.
“This allows the fluid flow of information not only within our department, but also with the law enforcement in our region, as violent crime is a regional issue,” Michelle Woodling, public information officer for the SLMPD, said.
There are also higher-tech methods. A list of assets the police are attempting to use in cracking the city’s unsolved murders include the Gun Crime Intelligence Center and a Carjacking Task Force.
Still, the department asks cooperation from the public.
“As the chief has said many times, witness participation is one of our biggest hurdles during any investigation,” Woodling said. “We encourage anyone with information who wishes to remain anonymous, to contact CrimeStoppers.”
Last month when a $25,000 cash reward was added in each of the cases of the four youngest children who were the victims of fatal gunfire, it still didn’t get many people talking. The rewards’ original time limit of a week was soon removed, but even with extended time, the cases remain unsolved.
Jones didn’t expect the rewards to lead to arrests.
“Anyone who does any research knows that increased rewards don’t work,” she said. “In the research that I’ve done, actually less than two percent of the people actually claim those rewards.”
She also scoffed at the amount of the rewards and the initial time limit that was put on them.
“So our children are only worth $25,000 for a week? Our children are worth more than that, and we have to stop funding this arrest-and-incarcerate model of criminal justice in our city. It’s not going to work.
“We have to do something bigger and better and bolder,” Jones added.
After the $25,000 rewards were announced, CrimeStoppers did get some calls, Lisa Pisciotta, executive director of St. Louis Regional CrimeStoppers, said. But none has yet led to any arrest.
“We have had some but will welcome as many as we can get until arrests have been made,” Pisciotta said.