Getting more people to share information with police is the goal of a new city working group assembled in the wake of eight homicides before the first full week of the new year.
But in most cities, the focus is elsewhere, according to John Roman, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.
"Law enforcement everywhere is very frustrated with the 'stop snitching' culture. It's a big barrier to effective police investigations," Roman said. "But, you know, it's sort of real and persistent, and the consensus has been really to try other strategies to reduce violence rather than focus on that."
In Tulsa, a variety of viewpoints on police intelligence-gathering were presented during the first meeting of the Public Safety Intelligence Working Group, with Councilor G.T. Bynum serving as chair for the gathering. Three more meetings are scheduled, including a Jan. 22 meeting scheduled to take place after deadline.
Discussion kicked off, however, with talk about ways to improve anonymous reporting.
Tulsa relies on the Crime Prevention Network, formerly known as the Tulsa Crime Commission, to operate the tip line Crime Stoppers.
Carol Bush, the network's executive director, said the initial meeting of the group -- which lasted about an hour and forty minutes -- provided plenty of benefit for many in attendance.
"I think, selfishly, from an education standpoint, it was great. Now we're on the same page," Bush said in an interview.
At the meeting, she described how calls to Crime Stoppers get routed to Nacogdoches, Tex. before the information is passed on to law enforcement. Bush emphasized how every step of the process ensures anonymity for those calling, including delivery of any reward money.
Others spoke about ideas to raise awareness about the main Crime Stoppers number, 918-596-COPS, and also how to communicate more widely that tipsters can text information via their cell phones or contribute information online.
Roman, however, questioned whether marketing such a message can really lead to more participation.
"You can make the number easier to remember and can do advertising to make sure people get the word. At the end of the day, what motivates people to give a tip is they trust law enforcement to use that tip wisely, and they trust that they won't get pulled into something, and you have to build that trust. You can't just put a telephone number on the billboard," he said.
Other issues were raised in the Tulsa meeting as well -- including the safety of those who share information.
"There's no money in the State of Oklahoma budgets for protection of witnesses. If I want to protect a witness, I have to access the U.S. attorney's office," said Steve Kunzweiler, a prosecutor in the Tulsa County District Attorney's office.
Police representatives at the meeting said that retaliation against witnesses does occur in Tulsa.
"There is a reason why they're fearful?" asked Councilor Karen Gilbert.
"Absolutely," replied Tulsa Police Capt. Van Ellis.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the less-than-advanced state of the records management computer system used by police.
With the current system, "it takes a lot of work and a lot of manipulation to look at our own information that we have," Ellis told the group.
He said getting a new system is "one of things in our long-range goals that we're looking at," but that the cost would likely be from $2 to $4 million.
The committee also discussed inefficiencies in communication between law enforcement agencies because of the use of widely varying records systems.
When it comes to getting people to communicate tips, Ellis emphasized the desire for quality information, not just quantity.
"When you request information on very specific things, you get very specific information, and that's not always the best way to analyze how we need to move forward," Ellis said.
As for Crime Stoppers, Bush told the group that direct mailing of postcards to specific neighborhoods has been shown to be an effective technique. Her agency has some funding to develop a smart phone app, but so far has not done so, she said.
She said she visits apartment complexes and neighborhoods frequently, but at a recent visit to the St. Thomas Square apartment complex in the area of East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue only 13 people showed up at the meeting, with several in attendance not actual residents of the complex.
"Some of those residents did not show up to the meeting because they saw three police cars there. They do not want to be seen hanging out with police, because now they're a snitch," Bush said.
She said the agency would like to establish a local center for accepting calls, but doesn't have the budget to do so.
Bush noted that the Crime Stoppers program in Kansas City is considered especially effective, but it has a much bigger budget than the local Crime Stoppers. Bynum said he is interested in meeting with representatives from Kansas City to discuss how the program works in that community.
Roman, with the Urban Institute, said that crime is often a very local issue, with many blocks in a city essentially crime-free while other areas are blighted with crime.
He said boosting funding to such a broad crime prevention program would be "taking attention away from the most at-risk people and places."
Others at the Tulsa meeting discussed the importance of working with the community.
"We focused a lot of attention on marketing, but the largest strategic issue is building trust between law enforcement and the community they serve," said Hannibal Johnson, a member of an organization that works with police and the community.
He talked about the Mayor's Police and Community Coalition Youth Forum done once a year. The meeting allows high school students to meet in small groups with Tulsa police officers. No questions are off limits during the sessions, he said.
"That's the way you build trust over the long haul," Johnson said.
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