When law enforcement officers respond to a call, one of the first things they do after securing the crime scene is look for witnesses. All too often, it’s an effort that is made difficult because witnesses “don’t want to get involved,” fearing reprisal in some cases or harboring a distrust of law enforcement.
The presence of willing witnesses is often the difference between quickly identifying and apprehending a suspect and a long, uncertain investigation that jeopardizes law enforcement’s ability to bring the guilty party to justice.
Crime data shows that if a suspect isn’t identified within the first 48 hours of the commission of the crime, the odds of solving those cases begins to decline. There is even a true crime TV show based on the premise.
For years, law enforcement has stressed the importance of public cooperation in crime investigations.
Recently, we’ve seen two examples of how citizens can aid law enforcement in their efforts to quickly identify suspects and get them off the streets.
In one case, multiple eye witnesses came forward to help the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office make an arrest in a murder case on Jan. 6. On Monday, an eye-witness followed a bank robbery suspect, communicating with Columbus police as he trailed the suspect until police intercepted the suspect and made an arrest.
A note of caution: Police do not recommend tailing suspects, which can be dangerous. There is a line to be drawn between aiding an investigation and participating in one. In this case, fortunately, the witness was able to follow the suspect at a sufficient distance to ensure safety.
Without the citizens’ help, it’s unlikely that the suspect could have been taken into custody so quickly — about 10 minutes.
In both cases, citizen involvement was a critical factor in making an arrest.
We urge citizens to step forward as soon as possible when they have information relevant to crime events.
Citizens who may be fearful of coming forward have a great way to provide that information anonymously and even be rewarded for those efforts.
Golden Triangle Crime Stoppers provides cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those who commit felony offenses by calling a tip line (800-530-7151) or leaving a tip through the P3 Tips mobile app. Either way, you can remain anonymous.
In 2021, six people were awarded a combined $3,150 for calling in tips that lead to convictions. The program is funded by fees/fines for moving violation citations. The funds are there. What law enforcement needs is more citizen participation in the program. Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott, the program director, says the addition of the phone app has already increased the volume of tips.
Both Scott and Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins are advocating for larger awards.
The most valuable benefit to the community are not those cash rewards, of course. When citizens cooperate with law enforcement, our streets and neighborhoods are made incrementally safer.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.