Opinion: Chat room (Ask it to the police chat room)

POSTED: 08/26/11 11:53 AM

Some ideas are better that others, but this one may just make the cut for St. Maarten. Okay, the idea comes from the Netherlands, but not everything they come up with in that country is bad. The police has started a web site called vraaghetdepolitie.nl (ask it the police). The police want to use the site to chat with young people.
The first theme investigators want to tackle is lover boys – the glib characters who prey on unsuspecting girls to draw them into a circle of criminal activity. Via the site, the polite expects to get in touch with victims and with people who suspect that someone in their environment is the victim of a lover boy. Youngsters are of course welcome to join the chat. A detective from Rotterdam-Rijnmond takes part in the chats.
We see a golden future for this concept in St. Maarten. We live in a culture where talking to the police is considered snitching. And snitching is a very bad idea, many youngsters reason. Even if somebody who does not like me thinks that I have been talking to the police, could earn me a bullet in my head. This is how many people justify their reason for not talking to the police.
That we have a huge problem in this field is clear. Amador Jones was shot at the Under the Sun car wash in Cul de Sac on a Saturday evening. There were dozens of people present when the shots were fired. When the murder victim’s brother a few days later fired shots at a man he believed had killed his sibling in Dutch Quarter the situation was very similar. There were dozens of people present.
The similarity does not stop there: all these people just happened to have their eyes closed when the shots were fired, or they just happened to have their back turned, or they were in the bathroom. Basically: nobody saw anything. The only thing we don’t know exactly is how many people were lying when they made such a statement, but it is safe to assume that the correct answer is: all of them.
Living in a small community makes physically going to the police station (for instance to tell an officer that you know who killed Amador Jones) indeed a hazardous enterprise. We get that. It’s a bit like going for an Aids-test ten years ago: before you got out of the doctor’s office, the whole island would not only know that you’d been there, they would also know the results.
What to do to break through that stubborn unwillingness to help the police with its criminal investigations? The chat room the Dutch police established this week might just be a viable option for St. Maarten. Chatting with police officers from behind a computer screen seems much less intimidating that actually going into a police station. It certainly beat being seen talking to a police officer.
In a way, setting up such a site is admitting defeat. We acknowledge that people, rightly or wrongly, think that it is too dangerous to give information to the police. But hey, this is about getting results, so we should not sweat the small stuff here.
At least, the chat room approach is an idea worth thinking about. Executing it is, as usual, a completely different matter.

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