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Detectives Say Reluctant Witnesses At Crime Scenes Are A Problem.

As summer approaches, Columbus police will use curfew enforcement and so-called strike forces in some neighborhoods to stanch violence. But, some homicides remain unsolved and criminals remain free for lack of a witness willing to come forward.

On May 7th, Columbus police were called to a housing complex on South 20th Street. A 17 year old had suffered a fatal gunshot wound. In their report, detectives asked for help. They had neither a suspect nor a witness. Detective Brian Lacy says reluctant witnesses are a common problem.

"If there's a lot of violence, if the person is known in that area to be violent and the witnesses have to live within that environment, yes, that's a problem." Says Lacy.

The morning after the fatal shooting of 17 year old Eito Moon, few in the southside neighborhood are willing to talk about the crime. Four young men, the custodian, and the daycare superviser at the Barack Recreation Center, next door to the crime scene, all declined to give interviews. Two blocks away, in front of the Infinity Beauty store on Parsons Avenue, a mother of four, agrees to talk, but she won't give her name. "I mean when your people consider you to be a snitch, like they say, snitches get stitches. Then you have to protect you. I'm not so worried about me. But, I'm worried about my family because I have a teen-ager, which, by the grace of god, I've raised four of them and three is in college and I have one to go. He's almost a senior. Even incidents with this young man, they might not have all the facts." Says the unidentified woman. The woman says her unwillingness to talk is informed by an experience from two decades ago at the scene of another violent crime.

"I remember one, I guess I probably was like 20 years old, and I'm 40 now. A news reporter from my old neighborhood that I lived in, didn't know me from a can of paint, and plastered my nickname all over the air and asking me questions. And it was involving a murder at this time.And a thousand people were around. So if I was going to give any information at that point Why would I put me and my family at risk."

But, police spokeswoman Amanda Ford says there's also a risk for residents who know something about a crime but choose not to talk to police.

"The worst part about when they don't come forward is the case goes unsolved. So, you now have a potential killer out on the street who is getting away with their crime. So, they're getting away with it while one person already lost their life. So, its tough when people won't come forward." Says Ford" Detective Lacy says oftentimes officers will return to the scene of a crime several times to seek out a witness. He says witness statements are critical for both apprehension of suspect and successful prosecution in court. Even in cases with strong physical evidence.

"Because physical evidence can't tell you whether, what kind of intent. But a witness that sees someone, let's say, beat someone ten or fifteen or twenty times. That's a big difference than just one strike and that's it." Says Lacy.

So far this year, nearly 30 homicides have been reported to Columbus Police. Eleven of those crimes remain unsolved, many for lack of a witness.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.