PREVENTING HOMICIDES IN GANG-INFESTED AREAS NEIGHBORHOODS
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 withhold information due to fear of retaliation. They don’t fully trust the police. The citizens choose not to cooperate even though they know their silence will give way to more crimes. Their silence will contribute to the deterioration of the quality of life where they live. They choose not to become a witness or even provide useful information to the police.
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, crime-preventing 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 (suburbs, etc.…).
Often, the more lawless a place becomes, the more dangerous it is for the police officers that work in those communities and the citizens. 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 who have their own agenda. The law abiding citizens will start to feel mistrust and become unsupportive of the police. This is especially true 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 is viewed, by the officers themselves, as futile and fruitless.
The truth is that it is rare for the work of the police to be futile and fruitless. However, there is something such as a lack of commitment, ineffective / lack of strategies, antiquated methods and just plain old doing nothing.
When the police follow the right strategies, and that may involve some cops (mostly old-timers) thinking outside -the-box, crimes are solved, crimes are prevented and murders can be stopped!
STRATEGY, COMMITMENT AND HARD WORK
Every cop crew has an occasional sense of futility at work. Good cops, who have a solid work ethic and are using good strategies, can solve homicides and other violent crimes even when saddled with a high-crime jurisdictions where the community refuses to help.
In my experience, most police officers want to work hard to fight crime. It helps greatly when operational 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. The hunt for the perpetrators must be relentless.
THE FIRST 24
Officers responding first to the crime scenes should work the scene as if the suspect is right there and the witnesses will be compiled from the people on the scene. Not every crime scene yields a positive ID on a suspect. However, 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. They can 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 travels.
Most of today’s public transportation systems, such as subways and buses, use 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 away while the heat is on. The First 24 hours are critical to capturing suspects, recovering evidence and locating witnesses.
Unfortunately, many detectives today are too much reliant on security cameras, license plate readers, transponders, forensics and other technologies. The effective detective canvasses the neighborhood and uses good old fashioned communication skills to get people to talk, even when these people are reluctant to do so.
There is more to investigating a homicide than walking around a crime scene and acting important. Get out to the neighborhood and talk to people. It is especially important to start the canvass in the neighborhood and vicinity where the crime occurred before the media starts broadcasting and people get nervous.
SHAKE THE TREES
Hit the streets and shake the trees. You cannot predict what will fall out. Traffic stops, field interviews, Knock and Talks, and other enforcement actions can result in the acquisition of a vital piece of evidence, a witness, intelligence or even a suspect.
The probability of getting something that is important is much greater when you work an area where the homicide occurred. Aggressive enforcement actions are highly effective in gathering information leading to the solving of homicides and other violent crimes.
DEBRIEF PRISONERS FOR INFORMATION
I cannot overemphasize the importance of debriefing prisoners promptly. The value of extracting information from people arrested for crimes is huge. 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 avoid going to 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. Those informants may have pertinent information on the recent act of violence or those involved.
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.
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.
Check out my recent article on using informants, “You Can Dance With the Devil, but Don’t Let Him Lead” CLICK HERE
UTILIZE CURRENT COOPERATORS WITHIN THE JAILS & 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 on 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. These lines must be advertised to the public. People must know how to call (text and email too). People must be told 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. Tip lines have been effective tools for many major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
DON’T COMPLAIN ON TV & RADIO THAT
THE PUBLIC WON’T COOPERATE
Yes, the public is afraid to cooperate when it comes to violent crime – especially murder. Stop complaining on TV interviews and radio about it. It looks bad and you make it worse. That’s the way it is all over the country today and it has been that way for over fifty years in every major city in the country.
I don’t ever remember people pouring out of their homes in New York City who were willing to come forward after a murder in the street near their homes. We cops went out, house to house, to talk with people and follow-up until we developed information.
Still today, cops must do the same in places that are suffering from big city crime, big city problems and big city gangs. It’s never easy.
Communities are changing and people from big cities are moving to small cities and towns. Just look around. Everything is changing. Your local homegrown bad guys may be violent. You may have bad guys moving in permanently. The may just be passing through from any one of several High Intensity Crime Areas (HICA) like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis and Kansas City. Of course, we cannot forget Mexico as a source of trouble-makers.
We must learn to cope with the impact of many communities where people are newly arrived having come from countries where the police can’t be trusted. How can we expect them to talk to us when it is ingrained in them to fear the police?
We must earn their trust. A good place to start is by treating them like they are an integral part of the community.
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. They can take a proactive role in the overall effort to solve and prevent violent crimes. To be successful, a police officer needs to develop close relationships with the prosecutors. They should take on the form of a partnership rather than merely working with them on a case-by-case basis.
Police cannot truly be effective in their endeavors without the backing and assistance from their prosecutor’s office. Partnering with your prosecutors will make your job easier and you more effective. Police officers don’t have a choice about what they must do when it comes to violence. They must fight violence by using the laws they swore to uphold.
Sometimes prosecutors are more concerned about conviction rates than they are with the safety of the community and its police officers. That is why it is so important for police officers to develop a partnering relationship with prosecutors so the prosecutor’s goals become aligned with the police.
COMMUNITY RESOURCE CULTIVATION
It would be easy to simply fall back on the excuse that the community does not trust the police department. We could complain that the citizens won’t help us solve serious crimes like homicide and walk away. That is the wrong attitude. It is incumbent upon the police to work hard at developing good relationships with the residents for a host of reasons.
Community members have a stake in the safety of their community. They place a degree of trust in their law enforcement officers and expect those officers to keep them safe.
In today’s environment, with all the negative press and overexposure to crime, it is harder to gain community cooperation than ever before. 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.
The media 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 have 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.
Reacting to events of the past should not be the only efforts made by law enforcement officers relating to homicides. Proactive efforts can actually prevent homicides quite effectively. Communities respond better to proactive law enforcement. They expect officers to aggressively go after the bad guys.
Citizens want to feel protected. We owe that to them.
There are the radical activists who try to discredit police efforts. They characterize them as civil rights violations and prejudicial in nature. These people are merely trying to promote themselves and their own agenda. They are doing so at a high cost to their own communities.
Law enforcement officers should always do their best to utilize safe and legal tactics. We should never be dissuaded from doing the jobs properly because of loud mouth activists.
The good people of the community need and want the police.
Sgt Lou Savelli is a retired detective supervisor who spent 21 years with the NYPD. He now trains law enforcement officers across the US and overseas on issues ranging from transnational organized crime, gangs, terrorism, narcotics, crime-fighting strategies, criminal investigation and officer safety. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.homefrontprotect.com.