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Editorial: Work with cops

Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy discussed The Taste Chicago security for it Chicago.   On right is Chicago Police Deputy

Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy discussed the The Taste of Chicago and security for it in Chicago. On the right is Chicago Police Deputy Chief Johnson. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: April 20, 2013 6:21AM

If anybody wonders why witnesses to crimes sometimes are reluctant to testify, look no farther than “the killing crew,” a group of thugs described in Monday’s Sun-Times by reporter Frank Main.

The young man who led the crew, Rashod Bethany, allegedly enforced a lethal code to keep witnesses from talking to police. In one instance, he allegedly ordered an associate to kill a witness who saw Bethany and others fire at men in their neighborhood near 119th and Eggleston.

So we understand why witnesses might be reluctant to step forward — and how that’s a big part of why only one in every four murders in Chicago last year were solved. Compare that with the 1970s, when Chicago Police routinely solved a higher percentage of murders than their suburban counterparts.

It’s not just fear that keeps witnesses from talking. In the last decade or so, a steady stream of popular music, including Ice Cube’s “Stop Snitchin’,” has persuaded many young people that if you cooperate with police you will be seen as someone who’s sold out. In areas where the drug economy is an important employer, cooperation also can be seen as bad for neighborhood jobs.

Earlier this year, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he plans a public education program to redefine “snitching.” It won’t be easy. No program can succeed unless it builds up community trust in police, prosecutors and courts.

Authorities can do more to protect witnesses before trial. A Baltimore program not only relocates witnesses but also helps them deal with such issues as where their children will attend school and how witnesses will get to their jobs. But no witnesses anywhere are going to get 24/7 protection for the rest of their lives.

Police can encourage people to make anonymous tips. They can try to build cases that don’t require witness testimony, although the department’s smaller number of detectives already means higher caseloads. And they can put out the word they absolutely will drop the hammer on anyone who intimidates a witness.

But at the end of the day, any program police devise will work only if it convinces people that cooperating, despite the risk, is the only way to make a community safer.

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