Snitching is an American term where a person turns hostile against their partners or gang members in return of favors like reduced sentences. Snitching has long been seen as a lowly act in the US. There is considerable stigma attached to snitching and the snitches are subject to significant dangers from the criminals they have turned against. Snitching is, however, being confused with reporting crimes and testifying against criminals which is totally incorrect. Snitching refers to an act of cooperation from a criminal in lieu of favorable returns to them. However, the act of reporting crimes is voluntarily and the witnesses do not expect anything favorable in return. There is nothing wrong and lowly about reporting crimes which a person is witness to. Not reporting crimes will also motivate the criminals and let them indulge in further criminal acts. The current article deals with how snitching is different from reporting crime, barriers to reporting crime, and how to foster a congenial environment where people can report crime.
How Snitching Works and How it’s Different from Reporting Crime?
There is a popular misconception on the difference between snitching and reporting a crime. Snitching is an act of a criminal turning hostile against their partners and informally negotiate favorable terms with the police in exchange of promised cooperation. In most cases, the snitch gets away in the form of reduced sentences for providing information against their partners. There is a strong anti-snitching bias in the US and snitches are stigmatized and viewed as evil. They are also faced with dangers from the criminals against whom they have turned hostile. The common phrase – “snitches get stitches” is a testimony to the dangers that a snitch may face from criminals.
In everyday life, there is a growing misconception that reporting crime and testifying against criminals is also an act of snitching. This is not correct. If a person is witness to a criminal act involving his neighbors or anyone else, they know, then reporting it to the police does not amount to snitching as the person reporting and testifying is not asking for favorable returns in lieu of providing the information. People should in fact voluntarily report criminal acts, as it will help to reduce the crime rates in their community and they can live a better life in future. It is important for the authorities to create awareness among the community members on how reporting crime is not snitching. This will motivate people to come forward and report crime and testify against criminals voluntarily.
Barriers to Reporting Crime
There are many barriers that exist to reporting crime. Most people confuse reporting criminal acts and becoming witnesses to snitching which is not true. There are other multifaceted issues like a complete lack of trust and confidence on the local police authorities which stops the youth and other community members from reporting crimes.
The criminals also intimidate the entire community and specific witnesses for turning against them. The strong anti-informant attitude in the US also does not help in making people to report crimes. This coupled with the fact that many celebrities and popular public figures have been known to display anti-snitching attitude also does not drive the people to report crimes. The higher ranks in the society though advocate reporting crimes but they also act differently when it comes to them reporting crimes and inappropriate behavior of their peers and colleagues. Some of the salient barriers which lead to crimes not being reported in the US are discussed below:
Lack of Trust on the Police
The community members especially the youth have a deep-rooted mistrust with the police. This is a major reason why they don’t report crimes voluntarily. The existence of a no-snitching code also blocks any trustful relationship to develop between the police and community. The witnesses also lack confidence on the police and other authorities to provide them adequate safety and security from witness intimidation. There have been documented cases of witnesses being harassed and assaulted by the criminals which acts as a strong deterrent for the potential witnesses for reporting crimes. The police and local authorities have to work in close coordination with the community to allay their fear and mistrust and develop a better bonding with them. This can contribute significantly towards the community reporting crime voluntarily.
Intimidation from the Criminals
Witnesses have been known to be threatened and intimidated by the criminals to stop them from reporting crimes and testifying against criminals. The criminals usually run well-managed campaigns to intimidate the community and reinforce the no snitching attitude in them. When a witness turns against them, these criminals can intimidate them by forms of physical violence to stop them from going to police against them. The witnesses can turn hostile and this may make the case very weak and the prosecutors may have to pull off the case also, delaying and possibly denying justice. The authorities can convince the witnesses of providing maximum protection and safety from the criminals to motivate them to report the crime.
There is a strongly prevalent anti-informant attitude in the US. The anti-informant attitude was originally aimed towards criminals who turned against their peers for getting certain benefits from the authorities, mostly reduced sentences. The anti-informant attitude has evolved since then and has become part of the mainstream society. The organized anti-snitching campaigns run by the criminals has also contributed towards this anti-informant attitude. Most teenagers, young adults, and mid-aged community members have endorsed a no-snitching policy and they avoid police. Other factors like a deep mistrust for the police and other local authorities has also led to strengthening of the anti-informant attitude and made it difficult for the crimes to be reported voluntarily by the community.
The pop culture has played an instrumental role in strengthening the anti-snitching attitude in the US. Many popular and influential celebrities and public figures endorse a no-snitching approach and their followers are also influenced by this. These celebrities promote music videos and merchandises with the no-snitching policy. There is a wide range of merchandise available in the market from clothing to key rings, stickers etc. illustrating no-snitching slogans like “stop snitching”, “snitches get stitches”, “I’ll never tell” etc. which reinforce the no-snitching attitude among the youth. There are even t-shirts with bullet holes which imply that snitches may get shot. The authorities have to take appropriate steps to counter the pop culture which is creating a stronger no-snitch environment in the community.
Hypocrisy in Higher Ranks of Community
There is a distinct dichotomy in approach among different sections of the society on reporting crimes and testifying against criminals. Those in higher positions and status in the society strongly advocate the need and importance of reporting crime to the police. However, when it comes to act on their part, they may act differently to what they preach. People in higher echelons of the society-politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc.- are not known to report inappropriate behavior of their peers and colleagues. High-level officials in the society protect one another but they expect others to snitch and report criminal activities to the authorities. This contradictory approach does not motivate the community members to come forward for reporting crimes as they don’t want to be seen as a snitcher when the people well off in the community take a passive approach towards the same.
Concerns of Witness Intimidation
Witness intimidation is perhaps the biggest barrier which prevents people from reporting and testifying crimes voluntarily. Witness intimidation is a crime in itself and undermines the criminal justice system significantly. Witness intimidation has been known for forcing the prosecutors to drop criminal cases, demoralizes law enforcement and communities, and most importantly it allows the perpetrators to remain free from prosecution which further enhances the crime rates locally. Organized crime gangs run an efficient witness intimidation process for discouraging people to report and testify against crime. They can indulge in occasional assault, violence, and even murder in some cases to intimidate the witnesses from turning against them.
Intimidation happens at two levels- directed against specific witnesses and directed against the community. Specific witnesses are intimidated by the criminals for deterring them to report and testify against them. The intimidation can manifest itself in the form of verbal threats or/and assaults directed against witnesses relating to specific cases. These organized criminals also run and manage anti-snitching campaigns directed against the entire community. They can distribute anti-snitching merchandise in the community and influence them to develop a strong anti-snitching attitude in them. This makes reporting and testifying of crimes difficult as the community is unwilling to come forward voluntarily to do so.
These forms of witness intimidation reinforce the basic norm in high crime communities that snitching is dangerous. The potential witnesses are deterred from reporting crimes due to well-planned and managed cases of witness intimidation by criminals. The authorities have to come up with well-coordinated strategies to motivate community members to report crimes. They can launch extensive awareness creation programs for creating awareness and sensitizing the community members on the importance of reporting and testifying against crimes. The community can be presented with compelling data and evidences to establish how snitching and reporting crime cases can reduce crimes in the community and make it a better place to live for them.
How to Increase Crime reporting for Strengthening Judicial System
Most people who are witness to a crime don’t report or testify because of their inhibitions towards crime reporting and a lack of trust on the authorities for ensuring their safety. The authorities have to take leadership in creating better awareness among the community on the importance of reporting and testifying against crime and criminals. Key resource persons and community leaders need to be involved in creating awareness on crime porting as this will ensure that the community members own the initiative. Some of the key steps which can be taken by the authorities for increasing the cases of so call snitching for better reporting of crime are discussed below:
Improve the Trust Between Police and Community
One of the biggest reasons why people don’t report crimes and wrongdoings is the lack of trust between the police and the community. Police is still feared rather than seen as a wing for providing justice. Most people have formed a negative image of the police either based on their own experiences or by getting influenced from the opinions of others. The trust factor between the police and community needs to be enhanced for the community members to develop faith on the police. This will ensure that they report and testify crimes and criminals fearlessly. The trust has to be strengthened for people to come forward and report crimes to the police voluntarily. This will also dent the perpetrator’s confidence and lead to reduction in crime rates.
Provide Anonymity or Confidentiality
Maintaining the anonymity or confidentiality of the source will make them more willing to snitching. The authorities should ensure that the source will be maintained anonymous for as long as possible to increase the rate of crime reporting among the common citizens. Anonymous tip lines can be set up for reporting, the witnesses can be interviewed in a safe and guarded place instead of being interviewed in public, and their names can be removed from the police reports. This will provide more confidence to the public about guarding their identity and being safe while reporting and testifying to the police. People are worried of being labeled as a snitch which prevent them from reporting and testifying crimes to the police. With adequate precautions for safeguarding the identity of people reporting the crime, the reporting of crime rates can be improved drastically.
Launch Awareness Programs to Address Anti-Snitching Attitude
Organized criminals and gangs have very effective and successful marketing campaigns to inculcate and imprint an anti-snitching attitude among general masses. They indulge in mass distribution of “stop snitching” merchandise like t-shirts, videos etc. This only reinforces an already strongly prevalent anti-snitching attitude among the public.
Sometimes such campaigns are also aided with occasional assault or murder of a witness to spread panic among the public and discourage them from snitching. To overcome this problem, authorities need to work closely with the community and create awareness on snitching and its benefits to the them. Various awareness programs can be conducted in regular intervals to make the community aware about why it is important to report crime. Key resource persons and other influential speakers who have a good rapport and hold over the community members should be actively involved in conducting such awareness programs.
Contact Parents and Offer Them a Greater Role
Parents play an important role in shaping the youth of the community. They can act as a bridge between the authorities and the youth and inspire them for reporting any crimes which they experience either with them or with others. Parents should be actively engaged and involved in all orientation and sensitization programs which the authorities plan to conduct for the youth on importance of reporting and testifying crimes. The parents first need to be oriented and convinced that by reporting or testifying crimes their children will not be exposed to any kind of harm. Once they are convinced, they can spread the message among the youth of their community and increase the rates of reporting of crime. The authorities should clearly present their case to the parents by linking the instances of lack of reporting of crimes and existing crime rates and social evils in the community.
Continuous Engagement with the Witnesses
Once a witness is on board and has either reported the crime or testified, they should be closely monitored and observed by the local authorities till the resolution of the case. This helps to track the witness and ensure their safety from criminals or other unscrupulous elements. However, this is tricky and the authorities should maintain complete sensitivity about it. They should consider the risks of exposing the witnesses by being in constant contact with them. Being in contact with a witness in a public place exposes them to the criminals and makes them easier to be targeted by them. The tracking of the witnesses should be done with highest degree of discreetness. The authorities must maintain open lines of communication with the witnesses to ensure they are invested in the process and nothing unpleasant happens till the case is resolved and closed by the judiciary.
Aggressively Protect the Witnesses
The authorities should make maximum use of the legal options available to them for aggressively protecting the witnesses. They can make use of tools like witness tampering charges, pre-trial hearings, and depositions to capture witness testimony. Other procedures like revocation of bail or probation can also be used in situations where there is a threat or occurrence of intimidation to the witnesses. The authorities can take efforts to ensure that the resolution time of the case is minimized for reducing the exposure and threat to the witness to the intimidation. By making judicious use of legislative mandates, the states can influence the local criminal justice authorities to make witness safety a priority. Such a focused approach for aggressively protecting the witnesses will make them come forward voluntarily for reporting crime and testifying without any fear. CWP