THE BLOG
02/25/2011 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Creating a Safety Net for Witnesses

Seven months after his tragic death, the killer of Chicago police officer Michael Bailey remains at large. Usually, such a high profile case would be solved. But detectives can't break the case until they break the code of silence.

Last week, Paul Meincke of ABC7Chicago reported on the updates in the Bailey tragedy. Of all the police officers tragically murdered last year, he is the only one whose killer has not been found. But there are no major leads due to the fear that some may have of speaking out. And you must live near Bailey's community to understand why.

I'm a resident of Park Manor/Grand Crossing neighborhood on the city's South Side -- the same community where Bailey lost his life while wiping his car in the early morning hours of July 18, 2010. For the past 13 years, I have seen the neighborhood go on a downward spiral and residents become more fearful to leave their homes. I even have neighbors on my block who haven't opened their windows in over a decade. With gangs more fragmented, it is harder to pinpoint exactly who is behind the influx of drugs and increase of shootings in this once quiet, middle-class African-American neighborhood.

After seeing the article of the gang member refusing to testify, I realize that we must improve communication before we improve safety. One of the reasons people communicate is to achieve a desired reaction. When you order a cup of coffee, you want to be sure that you get exactly what you are paying for. In my opinion, that same reasoning applies to the streets. When residents comply with police, they want to make sure that officers will keep that information anonymous for their safety. But many folks may believe that crooked cops could easily divulge their identity to bad guys.

This is why there needs to be a better system in place rather than the standard format of the Witness Protection Program. There was an Illinois Gang Crime Witness Protection Act in the late 1990s, but more is needed. People might not need to move away. They can stay where they are, as long as the bad guys are displaced from the neighborhood. But that is where our lawmakers come in. They should introduce better legislation to improve the safety of witnesses in criminal cases.

One way would be to integrate a community policing strategy. A beat cop could work with gang tactical officers to see if there are ways to keep the witness safe in their own home. It may be possible for block clubs to assist the witness as well. They could give tips to the person about any suspicious people watching their home so that the proper authorities can be alerted.

Unfortunately, no such "safety net" has been set in place yet. And that's sad, because it only adds to the pain of families who had their loved ones snatched away from them.