News 4 Investigates: Reluctant Witnesses - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Reluctant Witnesses

I apologize for not having the detailed records in this blog. I had technical problems loading them into the system. I will fix it tommorrow morning. Thanks for your patience.

Prosecutors are committed to putting criminals behind bars, but when witnesses refuse to testify cases often fall apart. In fact, the lack of victim/witness cooperation is the biggest reason why cases are dropped in the city of St. Louis.

The Circuit Attorney's office was forced to drop more than half the criminal cases from Downtown because witnesses and victims failed to help law enforcement.

We often blame law enforcement for not cracking down hard enough on "the bad guys," but the truth is that many residents haven't done enough to help the police and prosecutors after charges are filed in criminal cases.

Some rap artists have performed songs encouraging people to not "snitch" against their neighbors. A local law firm had a billboard last year that carried a similar message: "If you want to walk, don't talk."

Clearly, we should all talk. Otherwise we protect the bad guys and punish the good people who will continue to be victimized by the criminals.

Our story presented prosecution statistics for only three neighborhoods; Downtown, Wells-Goodfellow and St. Louis Hills.
However, we obtained the same records for three others; Jeff VanderLou, Soulard and the Central West End.

The Circuit Attorney's office had limited time and staff to help us, which is why we limited our records search to those six neighborhoods.

Why those six? Well, we thought it provided a fair cross section of the city.

Wells-Goodfellow in northwest St. Louis is nearly all African-American, mostly low-income and in the three year period of 2005-2007 it recorded more murders than any other city neighborhood.

JVL, also in north St. Louis, is a lower income, virtually all black neighborhood with significant new housing development. It has a high crime rate too.

The Central West End, which is two-thirds Caucasian, is largely affluent. It also has the highest crime index in the city, based mostly on property crimes, including the highest number of car thefts in St. Louis.

Downtown is the overwhelmingly white business center of the city. It's also the focus of tourists and out of town business people. Downtown also has a high crime index, according to St. Louis police.

Soulard is a mostly white inner south city neighborhood with many renovated historic brick buildings. This is one of the most "party happy" neighborhoods in the city.

St. Louis Hills is nearly all white. A stable, middle class neighborhood where it's not unusual to see police cars parked in driveways. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the city.

Initially, many people, both blacks and whites, told me privately that they assumed whites, especially middle class whites, would cooperate more with law enforcement than blacks, particularly poor blacks.

But that's not necessarily true.

Based on charges filed by the Circuit Attorney's office during the last eighteen months, St. Louis Hills and Wells-Goodfellow have nearly identical witness cooperation.

What does that mean?

It's not enough of a sample to form the foundation of a research paper, but it tells me that residents in both neighborhoods want law enfocrment to arrest and prosecute criminals, and that those residents are proving that they are willing to help.

We didn't have enough time to reveal all of our findings in my on-air story, but thanks to the seemingly bottomless reservoir known as KMOV.com, we can let you see all of this information for yourself.

The data is broken down in several categories; cases referred by police, cases charged by the Circuit Attorney, cases dropped because of uncooperative witnesses, lack of evidence and other reasons.

We also include figures for each police district in the city for 2007 and the first six months of 2008.

The neighborhood numbers are a little scattered because of the way the Circuit Attorney's office responded to our request.

We have five neighborhoods for 2007, Wells-Goodfellow for 2007, six neighborhoods for 2008 and the most recent figures for Wells-Goodfellow since the intense police operation started there this year.

The records for Wells-Goodfellow demonstrate the impact that law enforcement can have in a troubled neighborhood when witnesses come forward and cooperate with police and prosecutors.

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