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Proactively Solving Homicides in Neighborhoods that Don’t Cooperate

Sergeant Lou Savelli

Solving one homicide, arresting one killer, may prevent many deaths in neighborhoods prone to violence.

In high crime areas like New York City, Los Angeles, California, Newark, New Jersey, Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and so many other violent prone cities across the US, it is often the rule rather than the rarity not to talk to the police when a murder occurs. Community members, often withholding information, fear retaliation and lack trust in the police. Even though their lack of cooperation, knowingly, will give way to more crimes and a deteriorating quality of life in their neighborhoods, many people still are reluctant to become witnesses or just provide useful information. Forensics, as real-life cops know, are only useful when you have a suspect and when evidence is collected. It’s not even close to TV! So what should the police do? Should they close out the case and add it to the many unsolved and cold case files or should they put into action other methods of case-solving strategies?


The truth remains that these violence-ridden communities still deserve commitment from their local police. And crimes left unsolved have a way of multiplying and spreading to other communities, even the quiet ones. Often, the more lawless a place becomes, the more dangerous it is for the police officers that work in those communities. It is a proven fact! Criminals become more brazen and dangerous when left unchecked. There are other considerations. The lack of trust by community members will be exploited by radical community activists with their own, not the community’s, agenda. The law abiding citizens will tend to feel mistrust and unsupportive of the police, especially when the newspapers and politicians blame the police for not solving crimes and allowing the crime rate to soar. The morale of the local police agency will gradually diminish when the hard work of the officers are viewed, by them, as futile and fruitless.

Strategy, Commitment, and Hard Work

Even with the occasional views of futility by the police officers working in high crime jurisdictions, coupled with the blatant lack of cooperation by the community, the right strategies, true commitment, hard work, and good old fashioned police work can be the ticket to solving homicides, violent crimes, and other types of crimes. In my experience, most police officers want to make the commitment and work hard to fight crime but the strategies must come from above. First line supervisors and command staff must set the stage by leading officers into the implementation of proactive strategies for the officers to follow. These strategies should be aggressive, innovative, and focused while the hunt for the perpetrators must be relentless.

The First 24

First responders to the crime scenes should work the scene as if the suspect is right there and that witnesses will be compiled from the people on the scene. Although not every crime scene yields a positive ID on a suspect, there is usually some information that can assist in the development of a lead or information about a potential suspect. Process the crime scene, canvass the areas for witnesses, identify video cameras, check EZ Pass and other Potential Suspect Identification Devices (PSIDs) that may have documented the suspect’s image or travels. (Subways, buses, often require an access card that can be tracked back to a suspect). The First 24 Hours is especially important since many perpetrators of murders will be seeking to flee the area and get way while the heat is on. The 24 hours are critical to capturing suspects, recovering evidence and locating witnesses.

Shake the Trees

Hit the streets and shake the trees and you never know what will fall out. Traffic stops, field interviews, Knock and Talks, or any enforcement action, especially near the communities affected by homicides and other violence, can potentially result in the acquisition of a piece of evidence, a witness, intelligence or even a suspect. Aggressive enforcement actions are highly effective in gathering information leading to the solving of homicides and other violent crimes.

Debrief Prisoners for Information

I can’t say enough about debriefing prisoners and the value of extracting information from people arrested for crime. Conducting debriefings of all prisoners is imperative, especially when those prisoners live within, or near, the area where the homicide occurred. Prisoners are usually seeking help for their ‘new arrest’ and trying to work deals to keep out of jail. This motivation is exactly what every street cop must exploit in order to gather information to help solve crimes.

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