Cracking the Code of Silence: Erasing the 'no snitch code'

Cracking the Code of Silence: Erasing the 'no snitch code'

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - It's known as the "no snitch code" and it's a commitment to silence that many live by.

That code of silence is the very reason that crimes go unsolved and police are left without answers meanwhile criminals go on to commit more crimes, unafraid of being caught. The code runs deeper than silence, and is deeply rooted in fear.

"You know why we don't tell it, because guess what? We have to sleep, and sometimes we sleep outdoors, and we might not wake up," said one Queensborough resident.

Silence seems to have blanketed crime-filled neighborhoods, casting a dark shadow that spans entire blocks and divides neighborhoods. Even reaching into backyards and down dark alleys.

"You don't snitch," added another Queensborough resident.

Crimes left unsolved simply because people are obeying their allegiance to the streets.

"Someone kills your family member and people know it and no one says anything. Where is that okay? It's not okay," said Cpl. Marcus Hines with the Shreveport Police Department.

The numbers are through the roof. Criminals committing crimes, getting off the hook each year because of the community's choice to hold their tongues.

"They call each other police, that's the big cut down. You don't want to ever be called that," Shreveport Police Cpl. Brad Sotak.

It's promoted in music and even law enforcement has caught on to the code of silence that reigns.

"As ridiculous as it sounds, your best friend just got killed in front of you, you know exactly who did it, and you're not going to say something. It's ridiculous, I'll never understand," said Cpl. Sotak.

Cpl. Brad Sotak said he's seen it all in the Shreveport neighborhood of Queensborough.

"I can literally go down, and say I've been to this house for this, this house for this, dead person here, and dead babies there, a fight here," explained Sotak.

In nearly 12 years of patrol, Cpl. Sotak said his eyes have been opened to the cryptic code of the streets.

There seems to be an unwritten rule of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

"The other term is the word on the street is, because it's true everybody in the neighborhood knows exactly what happened," said Cpl. Sotak. "When you ask why they don't want to be involved they just look at you with a blank stare."

Commissioner Jerald Bowman said withholding information from law enforcement only delays crimes being solved and fuels the wrong fire.

"The person who does that also gains a sense of energy, from knowing 'hey I can do this and get away with it,'" said Bowman.

In July, Bowman found himself springing into action after a man was shot down the street from his Queensborough home.

"I was able to see something sticking up from my driveway, and I ran down here, and there he was," said Bowman.

Bowman called 911 for the victim who was later identified as 23-year-old Arthur McCray and held his hand until help arrived. But it alarms him that 15 shots rang out and nobody claims to have heard a thing.

"Anyone seen associating leisurely with police, is a snitch," said Cpl. Hines.

The intimidation of the word alone is enough to keep mouths closed and the fear of what could follow if they tell keeps them quiet.

"There's a real fear of retaliation," explained Cpl. Hines.

"They're afraid someone is going to come after them and hurt them, that's a legitimate concern. I'm not going to pretend that's imaginary because it is real," adds Cpl Sotak.

The fear of being labeled a snitch proves too much of a gamble for some, but there are others who see things differently.

"Snitches really don't get stitches anymore, they get rewarded."

Although the person doesn't want his identity revealed, he says the first step to cracking the code is understanding the loyalty aspect of "not snitching".

"Who are they loyal to? Nothing you can't be loyal to something that isn't loyal to you."

That's the message that police hope will seep into the minds of those afraid of the stereotype.

"Even if it's you're chasing a robber, a look or a nod, it makes all the difference," said Cpl. Sotak.

Those who know every corner and every back street of the most notorious neighborhoods in Shreveport even believe change is necessary.

"I'm not just a bystander and a witness, I am one of the ones that get out on the front lines and I will go, shootouts in broad daylight."

He says showing loyalty towards criminals just creates more crime.

"It's real. It does happen. We are not going to downplay it, but we're not going to settle for that," said Cpl. Hines.

Even the promise of money and remaining anonymous through programs like Crime Stoppers still isn't enough for most tipsters.

"Money makes the world go around for some people. If the reward isn't high enough, they'll say I'll just keep my information," added Cpl. Hines.

Money is a good incentive, but trust is what's needed to remove fear.

"Everybody knows, just like any profession, there's bad policeman, fireman, lawyers, name the profession, there is the odd bad apple," said Cpl. Sotak.

"I don't know that you'll crack the code. I don't even know that it's code there, is just like a wall here, and we haven't figured out how to get around it. Every once and a while someone will climb over it," added Cpl. Sotak.

One thing is for certain, silence won't bring solutions. Police say calling those who bow to the code "snitches" doesn't just cause stitches, it also leaves an open wound for those who are trying to heal their communities.

"The only way that is going to change is when people get sick and tired of being prisoners in their own house, in their own neighborhood, and they start going. We may have to fight the fight," said Cpl. Sotak.

Police believe that if they could erase the stigma that snitching always comes back in a negative way, progress can be made, meaning more leads and arrests that ultimately mean safer streets.

Copyright 2015 KSLA. All rights reserved.