Prince George’s County officials and community groups both acknowledge that in order to solve many of the violent crimes that have plagued the county in the early days of 2011, the community will have to get involved. However, some community groups think there is a disconnect between the police and residents that is preventing that from happening.

At a Jan. 18 press conference, County Executive Rushern Baker made note of the need for citizens to understand what snitching really means and why hard-working taxpayers need to feel free coming forward to the police.

Baker spoke of a visit he made to Community of Hope Church on Jan. 9 in which the Rev. Tony Lee told the young people in the congregation about the issue. Baker said he was glad Lee addressed the issue because young people in the African-American community oftentimes get the message confused.

“Snitching is not when you aren’t doing anything wrong and you tell on somebody who did something wrong,” Baker said. “Snitching is when you’re in violence together and you try to craft a deal for yourself.

“Honest people – men and women who everyday get up and go to work, do nothing wrong, should not be fearful of walking out their doors,” he continued. “In this county, as long as I’m county executive, it will not.”

Circle of HOPE, a Prince George’s based group formed to promote peace in the county, wants residents to understand the same thing, but Jamal Spratley, the group’s CEO and co-founder, says there’s a bigger issue there.

“I think the real issue is our community does not have a real working relationship with law enforcement,” Spratley said. “We have an adversarial relationship.”

Spratley said that former Prince George’s Police Chief Roberto Hylton worked hard at community policing to build relationships with residents and community groups in the county. He said with Hylton’s ouster, there is a void there that still hasn’t been filled.

“Ex-chief Hylton I could call and say, ‘this is about to happen or that is about to happen,’” Spratley said. “It was because of a relationship. That’s what law enforcement needs now.”

Since that void hasn’t been filled, Spratley says there’s hesitancy for residents or groups to trust police with information that they provide.

“You’re more than likely to tell your friend, who happens to be a police officer, ‘Look, this is what’s going on’ when you can trust that friend,” he said. “The whole problem is mistrust and a lot of times we’d rather deal with street justice.”

However, county officials may be taking Spratley words to heart already as they hold press conferences and reach out to community groups. Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks has started a project called “Speak Up,” which will go into Prince George’s schools to reach people at a younger age.

“I want it to be fully understood that I believe education and prevention are our keys to unlocking a longer solution to this homicide problem,” she said. “The smartest strategy we have is prevention.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO