When the suspect is a stranger and you know the chances are unlikely that you will be identified reporting the crime is fairly easy. In the end you feel that you've done your civic duty.
What happens if the suspect is someone you know, someone that is a friend or good neighbour? What if you know the suspect and also know that they are violent and will likely retaliate?
Reporting the crime can end that friendship or put you in danger. Many witnesses to crimes find themselves in a moral dilemma. The 'right' thing to do is to report the crime but it's not an easy right.
We are asked to always report crimes that we witness by the police but cultural norms often differs from that advice. In close neighbourhoods when a person reports another neighbour, no matter what the crime is, they are considered a 'bad' neighbour by some. They can face verbal attacks by those who are even closer to the person reported. They can also face violence.
For some doing the right thing means going through an organization like Crime Stoppers to protect themselves. That report will help the police without anyone knowing who did the reporting.
When the police show up at a crime scene they have to look for witnesses. Those witnesses often refuse to comment, it's within their rights. It also can mean a criminal act goes unpunished by the law. That doesn't mean that the crime goes unpunished though. We read every day about one violent act that stemmed from another violent act. Many will ask themselves why no one did anything to stop the second crime. The answer often is no one would come forward and be a witness.
When posed with the question, "If you witnessed a neighbour or friend committing a crime would you tell the police what you saw?" most answered that it depended on the crime. When asked if the crime was one of a violent nature those questioned all said that they would.
Some excerpts of those asked included:
Stephanie Medeiros was one who said she would report a neighbour or friend who committed a crime.
Dave of Toronto said that it would depend on the crime but he would report it if it concerned violence.
Lisa of Toronto said, "My first instinct was to say yes but
I think honestly it would depend on whether someone was hurt or not." When asked if a child was being assaulted her response was, "Yes, definitely or an animal."
Kevin Jess said, "Absolutely! If I was asked. I wouldn't lie. I might not be the one who called the police though."
Antonio Cayonne said, "Neighbour I don't know, yes, if I was asked, and maybe even if I wasn't. Friend? Likely yes, but I guess it depends on the crime. Something benign that I don't have to get involved with like, I don't even know what I consider benign, but ya, if it's bad, and it harms other people, then I'd likely say something." Cayonne said that if the crime was of a violent nature he would absolutely report it.
Americk Lewis of New York City said that it depended on the crime. If the crime was violent he said, "If the police asked me yes I would. Not sure if I would volunteer."
Ron Smith of Georgia said, "Of course I would tell and then hope they don't find out it was me who told. It depends on the crime though. Littering would just make me think less of them. Shop lifting would make me worry about their present situation. Murder would scare me into telling."
Kim Hartman of West Virginia answered, "Yes, absolutely." She then added that maybe yes isn't always her answer. "If I saw someone stealing food because they needed it I wouldn't get involved. If I saw hooking their own electric up because they couldn't pay the bill for legitimate reasons I wouldn't get involved. If i saw someone selling pot I wouldn't get involved... if I saw someone selling heroin I would be the first to call." When asked if the crime was of a violent nature she said, "Oh my god, I don't care if it was family I would tell on them. My brother is prosecuting attorney in my city and also county. For the most part I am law-abiding and supportive on the system but there is another part of me that can see that people get in situations they can't get out of ... and perhaps reporting them is for their benefit."
Jon of Toronto has a different take on the question after being a victim of violence by the police. He said, "Having been assaulted by three officers a month ago for no good reason, the cops have been knocked down on my personal scale of confidants. If I don't think violent crime is okay, why would I go squeal to a group who does?"
Joe Couto, of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said " I work with police leaders and this is a question they wrestle with everyday when it comes to implementing our community policing model. If people won't "do the right thing" no matter the circumstance, police really are just :law enforcers. No crime prevention, no community empowerment or partnerships are possible."