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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference
tunities to solve the immediate crime, prevent new ones, and reduce community fear and despair. They recommended that the mayor:
give enraged young relatives and acquaintances of murder victims immediate attention—from police, counselors, and the community—commensurate with their dual status as sources of help in solving the immediate case and potential violent perpetrators in revenge killings;
keep the police officer on the neighborhood community beat informed regarding all 911 calls for assistance and the police response—to develop his or her own understanding of the community and to communicate as much as is feasible to satisfy residents' legitimate needs for information and reassurance;
create an active Victim Assistance Unit that, while providing psychological and practical help to surviving victims and families, also advances the larger goals of reducing fear, promoting positive attitudes toward the criminal justice system, and creating channels for information that may be useful in solving the case; and
mount immediate and visible police patrols in the vicinity of a "violence wave"—to reduce fear and encourage a helpful community presence on the street, even if patrols are not expected to advance the ongoing investigation.
Overcoming Fear of Cooperation with Criminal Justice Authorities
Community reluctance to cooperate with criminal justice authorities lessens the ability of the system to reduce violence by punishing offenders. Nationally, only about one-half of all serious violent crimes are reported to police, and witness reluctance is a significant and growing impediment to successful prosecution after arrest. Between 1974 and 1990, the percentage of felony cases dismissed due to witness problems approximately doubled for violent crimes and grew 12-fold for drug and other "vice" crimes in Cornet City. A judge there has called witness intimidation the major problem facing the local criminal justice system.
Conference participants saw effective, nonintrusive witness protection as both a right and a tool for reducing violence. As television crime shows describe incessantly, typical witness protection programs are designed for long-time racketeers with few family or community ties, who feel trapped between organizational death sentences if they cooperate and long prison sentences if they refuse to do so. Understandably, witnesses facing this dilemma willingly take extreme and disruptive measures to protect themselves. But for most witnesses who are law-abiding citizens, if they are faced with a choice between entering such a program and remaining silent, they are likely to choose silence.