To catch more criminals, victims must speak upBy YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté sounds ambitious but also idealistic when it comes to convincing more shooting victims to cooperate with his department.
Retired Kansas City detective Gary Gibson sounds defeatist but also realistic on the same subject.
Spurred by stories in The Star, Forté has proposed several ways to improve the situation.
Hes on solid ground in emphasizing that officers and detectives have to be more conscientious, empathetic and thorough in working with reluctant victims to help catch the people who injured them.
However, as Gibson and others accurately point out, the city only has so many resources.
Its difficult enough convicting people of crimes when you have cooperative victims and other evidence. Its much harder to try to help victims who wont help themselves.
As Gibson wrote in The Star, The witnesses refuse to cooperate because they are afraid of retaliation, and any efforts by Chief Forté to relieve that level of fear are ridiculous and fruitless.
Plenty of people agree with that statement, including some on the Police Department who called me after The Star series. They insist the problem of uncooperative shooting victims is an ages-old one complicated by racial issues and mistrust of law enforcement officials that cant be solved.
Kansas Citys first black chief says hes going to try to do that, and more power to him.
But plenty of factors are working against the effort.
• The dont snitch attitude among too many victims is a big problem. It also reduces public empathy for them.
One victim told The Star, I know who shot me, but Im not going to say anything..... Its how we live.
Thats a sad, regrettable viewpoint that needs to change. Yet it hasnt despite past campaigns to reverse the dont snitch way of thinking.
• Kansas Citys overwhelmingly white police force is confronted with trying to help victims who wont cooperate with them regarding crimes in largely black neighborhoods far from the neighborhoods where the cops live, such as north of the river. Thats a huge cultural divide.
Again, police officers naturally are drawn to solving cases where victims, of any race, will cooperate with them.
• Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker continues to point to legal problems involved in trying cases where victims wont come forward and, in court, make it possible for defendants to face their accusers.
She has said thats how the prosecutors office has operated long before she got there, echoing what has been the same outlook at the Police Department.
• Finally, while its maddening that 175 out of almost 300 shooting victims did not cooperate with police in 2011, expending a lot of effort to improve that ratio might not make a big dent in the citys extremely high violent crime rate of more than 6,000 cases a year.
So why should Forté, Baker and others concentrate much time and resources on this issue?
A few reasons compel them to make a decent effort.
The biggest is to prosecute criminals who think they can get away with shooting people with impunity, thus frightening entire neighborhoods.
Plus, any sustained reduction in violent crimes such as shootings could make it easier to woo companies and residents to urban core neighborhoods.
Finally, as Forté and Baker have noted, they commendably have made it a high priority to improve relations that the Police Department and the prosecutors office have with Kansas Citys minority communities.
In the long run, that mission could turn out to be the single best way to encourage victims to come forward and put dangerous criminals behind bars.
Sure, this approach also sounds a bit idealistic, especially given this citys historic racial divisions.
But Forté has the responsibility to try to change the dynamics at work in his department and in neighborhoods. Kansas Citians deserve a well-executed plan that will work with more victims to catch more criminals.