Serious crimes sow fear. When murders, rapes, arson, robberies and assaults go unsolved over long periods, eventually the lack of closure erodes confidence in the ability of the police department to ensure safety and of the justice system to administer justice.
Unsolved crimes become a gnawing frustration for victims seeking justice and for the crime-fighting agencies, too. For both, a major factor is the blanket of silence that descends on certain crimes, bringing investigations to a dead end in some cases. In Akron, for example, several shootings in the past couple of years remain unsolved, investigators stymied by a powerful code of the street against “snitching.” People who may have witnessed a crime or have information that could be useful in an investigation are taught by intimidation and violence to be keep quiet.
Silence protects criminals, a reality Summit County police chiefs are trying to counter with a rewards program, Summit County Crimestoppers. The nonprofit organization is led by a board of directors made up of local business and civic leaders and funded by private donations and fees on criminal defendants. It offers cash payments up to $2,000 for tips that lead to an arrest and indictment of a suspect in a serious crime.
Crucial to informers who, for good reason, are fearful of retaliation, Crimestoppers guarantees tipsters complete anonymity. Callers to the organization’s 24-hour hotline at 330-434 2677 are not required to identify themselves. Police do not trace the call or try to identify the callers. Instead, callers are assigned a confidential code number, which they use to check periodically on the status of their tip. If the tip has resulted in an arrest and indictment, the reward payment is arranged and paid — anonymously.
In an important way, Crimestoppers is much more than an incentive program. Where trust between residents and law enforcement officers is fragile, the program seeks to emphasize a partnership for a common goal: To take dangerous criminals off the street. It strives to demonstrate the police can be trusted to protect the identity of people who take the risk of breaking the code of silence.