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Can’t solve crimes by pretending not to see it

It’s a common problem for police, particularly in neighborhoods where people have been known to wear T-shirts emblazoned “Don’t Snitch” – don’t talk to the police.

A gunman opens fire on someone, sometimes in broad daylight, in front of witnesses and leaves the person dead in the street. But when investigators, who will tell you that the public serves as their eyes and ears, try to interview possible witnesses, they come up empty-handed. People will claim they saw nothing.

Some people will call police when a shooting happens, says Raquel Foster, a spokeswoman for the Fort Wayne Police Department, but often they’ll just say that shots had been fired and hang up. They don’t leave names or details or even stay on the phone to offer additional information.

In certain parts of town, there are people who run lonely campaigns, urging young people to strive for higher goals, to quit looking at prison as an accomplishment, to dream of getting an education and establishing a career.

But drugs and gangs, and what some people call demons, maintain their grip, and the homicides continue.

Sometimes, after a shooting has taken place, Foster says, people might call police with tips, sometimes even offering the name of a shooter, but they will do so anonymously. Any tip is useful, but the older a crime is, the tougher it is to solve.

For relatives of people who have been crime victims, it can be crushing. People who have information refuse to come forward.

This results in crime statistics like those recorded in the city in 2012, in which the vast majority of slayings went unsolved.

When people do offer information, though, it can make a dramatic difference.

Take the case of the shooting that occurred Tuesday afternoon at Rudisill Boulevard and Indiana Avenue, an area where shootings are practically unheard of.

Numerous residents called police after hearing gunshots. They offered detailed information almost immediately after the shooting, including descriptions of the vehicle involved, which way the vehicle was traveling and so on.

At the site of Tuesday’s shooting, Foster expressed a certain surprise at the amount of information that witnesses had supplied to police and how quickly police had gotten it.

That information allowed police to locate a vehicle that matched the description of the one used in the shooting and stop the vehicle only about a mile away. Within minutes, a suspect was in custody, and by the end of the day he was charged with murder and being held without bond.

So would public cooperation lead to a reduction in crime? Maybe it would, or maybe it would just cut down on brazen daylight killings that have become more common in the last few years, in which gunmen seem fearless and unconcerned about the possibility of witnesses.

Every time there is a shooting, there are people who bemoan that the violence has gotten out of control and something has to be done to stop it.

Perhaps if people stood up and announced they aren’t going to take it any more, that they wouldn’t pretend to look the other way, it would make a difference.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.