Witness reluctance biggest crime problem

Published 12:51 am Sunday, October 28, 2007

It’s not the number of recent murders, shootings and aggravated assaults that has local law enforcement personnel worried.

It’s the number of resulting arrests, or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

Natchez and Adams County routinely have approximately two or three murders each per year. A spike of up to five isn’t all that alarming, authorities said.

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This year, there have been five murders in the city and county combined and only three arrests.

In most cases crimes in the Miss-Lou are either domestic or drug related. In the past, arrests have come on the day of the crime or the day after, but national trends are making the jobs of investigators harder.

The most troubling trend in crime is witness reluctance, Adams County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jody Waldrop said.

“If they don’t tell us anything it makes our job harder,” he said.

In the city’s most recent murder Ronnie Jones was fired at 30 times yet no one, deputies say, has come forward with any information or has admitted to seeing anything.

Both Brown and Waldrop said while witness reluctance has always plagued law enforcement authorities, the problems is more pronounced today.

“Society changes,” Brown said. “Some people don’t want to cooperate and some are worried about retaliation.”

And violent retaliation may be a viable concern.

Deputies said they strongly suspect that Ronnie Jones’ murder was a retaliation killing for his rumored role in an earlier murder.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper pointed out the same trends, and said the change is one that is bigger than Natchez.

“We have had some this year that have been very difficult for law enforcement officers to investigate simply because of a lack of cooperation from potential witnesses,” he said. “It’s more difficult to make arrests initially and to obtain a conviction if you don’t have the sufficient evidence to do it.

“The police work very hard, and the sheriff’s office works very hard, but if people don’t cooperate, it makes it very difficult.”

Harper said he thought silence was a trend to some extent, trickling from larger cities down to less populated areas like Natchez.

“I understand concerns they might have about not getting involved,” he said. “But it’s their community as it is ours. Sometimes it’s not the intended targets that get injured, it’s bystanders, children.”

“That’s the tragic part of it when those things happen. Then, nobody wants to step up and help when we have an investigation,” he said.