SJU Institute Hits the Streets to End Silence Surrounding Crime

Law enforcement assistance grant funds research on 'Stop Snitching' phenomenon

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (October 6, 2008)--Philadelphia is one of the most violent cities in America. Last year 392 homicides were recorded, and yet 49 percent of those remain unsolved. It can be hard to imagine, but young people who live in crime-infested neighborhoods and witness violence every day are often the last to report those crimes to police.

Saint Joseph's University's Institute for Violence Research and Prevention (IVRP) attributes this to a cultural mindset known as the 'Stop Snitching' phenomenon, which was first recognized in 2004 and threatens violence to would-be informants. Armed with a $67,000 grant through the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program, the IVRP is taking to the streets — quite literally — to seek a greater understanding of how youth in medium to high crime neighborhoods in Philadelphia perceive and interact with law enforcement.

"We need to understand and adopt the most effective means of response to this growing epidemic of violence," said Maria Kefalas, Ph.D., director of the IVRP and associate professor of sociology. "To accomplish this, we must explore new approaches to public safety while opening the lines of communication between vulnerable youth and those law enforcement officials and policymakers charged with protecting them."

Researchers contacted social services and began collecting interviews this past summer, talking to young people, ages 14 to 24, on street corners in high-crime Philadelphia neighborhoods. According to Kefalas, the basic idea is to see youth as a resource for anti-violence initiatives rather than a cause of the problem. The IVRP is looking to answer a number of questions through the interviews: are young people in these neighborhoods alienated from the police? How much legitimacy does the criminal justice system have in these areas? What does 'Stop Snitching' mean to young people? How does the 'Stop Snitching' message permeate these neighborhoods?

Kefalas and her team believe that authorities lack the data to evaluate and address the 'Stop Snitching' phenomenon, and therefore will benefit from the research findings. Another phase of the project involves bringing these results to the Philadelphia Police Department, City Hall and community groups in the form of a summit, to be held sometime next fall.

"What we know is that young people who grow up under these conditions all too often espouse an oppositional stance to police and the legal system throughout their lives," said Kefalas. "If we start with this demographic, hopefully we can build trust and open communication for future generations."

The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program (Byrne Formula Grant Program) is a partnership among federal, state and local governments to create safer communities. The grant is named for Officer Byrne, a New York City police officer killed while protecting a witness.

Contact Information

 Kelly Welsh, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-1385, kwelsh@sju.edu



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