Crimestoppers is alive and loaded in Akron.
That’s news to some.
What isn’t news is Crimestopper’s No. 1 enemy: Silence.
For the nonprofit organization to do what it does — pay cash for crime tips — proponents say it must overcome the stigma of the unwritten, but too prevalent, no-snitch rule that permeates city neighborhoods.
Case in point: The shooting death of Henry Ivery, 25, who was killed more than a year ago in West Akron. Although authorities dangled a reward of up to $2,000, no one has stepped up to help police detectives solve the slaying.
“The streets know, but nobody’s saying anything,” said Cynthia Ivery, the slain man’s mother.
More recently, no one has come forward with the identity of the gunman who fired shots Thursday night into the car of Wylene Edwards, 59, of Akron. She was nearly killed after flashing her car lights to alert two men standing in the middle of Elma Street.
A reward for that crime is available. Just call 330-434-COPS.
Changing the urban-silence culture and raising the profile of Crimestoppers were the topics Saturday morning of the Community Witness Safety forum at the Akron Urban League. The invitation-only meeting attracted high-level crime fighters, city officials, religious leaders, block-club organizers and victims such as Cynthia Ivery.
Civil-rights attorney Ed Gilbert, president of the Akron-Canton Barristers Association, is part of a group of Akron-area leaders who began hosting the forums in the fall. Thus far, the forums have focused on gathering facts and searching for ideas.
But its purpose is discrediting the “no-snitch” rule and taking steps to combat inner-city crime that affects the community. Gilbert and others in attendance Saturday believe that Crimestoppers needs to be better known among area youths. They intend to promote Crimestoppers in schools, and make it hip, and profitable, to leave a tip.
To some in the audience, Crimestoppers was anonymous. But the group still exists in Summit County. It is funded by private donations and fees imposed on criminal defendants, and has thousands of dollars on hand to pay off tipsters.
Speakers said people need to know, for example, that anonymity is assured, from when the tip is called in to when the payment is made. Calls are not traced. Tipsters do not necessarily have to testify at a trial, but if they do, protections are available.
Sometimes, they said, police merely need a tip to point detectives in the right decision.
“Very often, I know folks are reluctant to come forward when something happened in their neighborhood because they feel they don’t want to be a witness,” Copley Township Police Chief Michael Mier said. “With Crimestoppers, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re just looking for folks in the community to help police just make the connection.”
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said it’s vital that law enforcement market Crimestoppers more effectively, especially the anonymity component.
“Unfortunately, we can promote Crimestoppers as anonymous, but I think it takes more individuals in the community to reinforce that it’s not some kind of trick to get people to call and that it is really anonymous,” she said.
U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott and Sheriff Steve Barry said that parents, schools and churches are the foundation of neighborhoods and have to take on a greater role in spreading the word of Crimestoppers and breaking the code of silence.
“We need the help of the community,” Elliott said. “Crime is not a law-enforcement problem. It’s a community problem.”
The Rev. Melford Elliott of the Akron Ministerial Alliance said there’s a feeling in the urban neighborhoods that people would rather rely on “community justice” rather than legal justice. As a consequence, people don’t call police, leaving others to live in fear.
He pointed to the grieving Cynthia Ivery, sobbing as she sat in the audience, as an example of the change that is needed.
“Thank God for Crimestoppers, yet we all have to get involved,” he said. “There’s a mother right here today hurting. And we can talk and we can talk, but something has got to be done, and it’s got to start right in our own community, where we say we’re not going to take it anymore.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.