Laura Ofobike

Sometimes I run into this lady at the grocery store, and sometimes at church. From her long, polished nails to her makeup, outfits and coiffed hair, she is always “all put together,” as they say. Say hello, and she gives you back a big, hearty response. Ask her how she is doing, and she says by the grace of God she is making it. Day by day. One year after another.

But even for a resilient spirit, some days have to be tough, the memory hard to erase of an act that cannot be undone. It has been many years — maybe even a decade — since this lady’s adult son was cut down in his prime. Shot dead by a person or persons unknown.

Read in the newspaper about someone killed and no suspects identified, and a lady with a big smile who is making it by the grace of God springs to mind. And years after the fact, it isn’t a scar I feel compelled to pick to ask whether anyone ever served time for that crime, whether anyone ever was charged or even arrested for it.

But the lady is not alone, as we all know, though, in this gnawing sorrow — a child gone and not knowing who blasted that hole in her life or why. Television crime shows notwithstanding, roughly one-third of all violent crime, the killings, rapes, vicious assaults and robberies that tear at the heart of families and neighborhoods, go unsolved. The leads peter out, the trail of suspects runs cold, and the machinery of justice spins to a halt. A recent article in the Dayton Daily News cited 5,153 unsolved homicides in Ohio, the oldest dating back to 1964.

Perhaps for survivors who live with unsolved crimes, the hardest part to believe may be that nobody knows anything about what happened. It must be unbearable to live convinced that somebody knows something that could break a case but would rather stay silent. It must be difficult to accept that with all the experience and technology at their disposal, the police department cannot identify a suspect or crack their case.

Akron has its share of unsolved serious crimes. And its share of victims who understand all too well that “no suspects arrested” does not mean nobody saw or heard any evil. Is it possible, say, to shoot a man dead in daytime traffic on a stretch of Copley Road, and no one know who did it or why? Is it possible to invade a person’s house and beat him senseless, and no one hear anything that might help find the assailant?

The honest truth is, if we have a choice, most of us would rather not get mixed up voluntarily in a criminal investigation. We reason, not without cause in some cases, that talking to the police could present risks. When the sources of information are traceable, the risk of retaliation weighs heavy. Yes, seeing that justice is done may be its own reward, but there may be a price to pay.

Soon enough, otherwise sharp-eyed observers turn blind, mouths clam up, and memories go blank. It’s a malady that law enforcement officers and prosecutors understand all too well. And they know, too, that many an investigation or court case has fizzled for lack of “civilian” cooperation, people stepping forward with crucial tips.

If people only understood that they could call in information safely and anonymously to the police, many of our unsolved serious crimes would be cleared, an Akron police lieutenant told me recently. The best part, he said, is that people who have relevant information not only do not have to be afraid of exposure, they may even get paid for the help.

Since 2005, the Summit County Police Chiefs Association has operated the Summit County CrimeStoppers program to encourage residents to contact the police with information on serious crimes under investigation. The program pays a cash reward of up to $2,000 if an informer provides a tip that leads to the arrest and indictment of the suspect.

“Callers to the program [330-434-2677] do not have to identify themselves, and we do not trace their calls or identify the number from which they are calling,” he said. To protect identity and confidentiality, a tipster is assigned a unique code number, which they use to find out if a suspect is indicted. A reward is then arranged and paid where appropriate, the process all conducted anonymously.

For a malady that only serves to protect criminals, a simple antidote.

Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at lofobike@thebeaconjournal.com.