Silent Observer and the Code of Silence

Snitching. To our youth and some others the word, snitching is equivalent to the worst kind of swear word imaginable. I was contacted recently by someone very upset with Silent Observer because we offer a confidential way for people to give information about serious crime. This young person called it a snitch line and used some other expletives but frankly I couldn’t disagree more because I see Silent Observer as a Lifesaver.

By not telling Silent Observer or police information about serious crime, who wins? Not you and me and not our friends and family. The only beneficiaries of silence are the ones who make life dangerous for the rest of us. This No-Snitching phenomena is troubling at best. Those living in certain neighborhoods cannot take control of their own destiny because they are paralyzed by fear that someone will find out they talked to authorities about illegal activity occurring and affecting them. I get it and cannot imagine living with that kind of fear.

I certainly don’t have the answers to help combat the no-snitch culture. I can only testify as to the effectiveness of the Silent Observer Program. We are in the business of stopping and solving serious crimes. I told this young person that if his sister was raped, his friend murdered, his home burglarized, his stuff stolen and he was in need of answers, he would welcome the information given to Silent Observer by the good people of our community to help find those who perpetrated crimes against him or his loved ones. Is that snitching? I don’t think so. It’s doing the right thing…it’s helping to make our community and our schools safer…it’s stopping crime before it happens to someone else….it’s allowing families to heal….it’s getting our property back…it’s helping us not to feel so vulnerable….it’s taking back our neighborhoods.

The Snitching Project, led by Dr. Rick Frei at the Community College of Philadelphia, is an ongoing student-driven interdisciplinary research initiative aimed at developing a better understanding of the no-snitching phenomenon and facilitating community discussion through education. It is an interesting study on why some adhere to the No-Snitching culture. They have found:

  • Students who were exposed to more violence growing up are more likely to view cooperating with authorities as snitching.
  • Attitudes about snitching are also associated with personal and family drug use
  • Students who watched movies or listened to music with anti-snitching themes were more likely to view cooperating with authorities as snitching.
  • Those who viewed themselves as religious are less likely to view any form of cooperation with police as a form of snitching and more likely to cooperate with police across different situations.
  • Nearly half of all respondents said that they would be more likely to cooperate in criminal investigations if there was someone else besides the police to which they could report crimes. Anonymous tip lines or Internet-based methods of reporting a crime may improve community involvement.

Did you notice that last bullet point? Silent Observer is in business to keep the identity of those who wish to report information about crime a secret. We guarantee our tipsters anonymity and are good a keeping secrets. No caller ID is ever used and tipsters are never asked their name. We’re here, effective and ready to assist police in our collective efforts to solve crime.

How students can help keep schools – and each other – safe

By Samuel J. Spitalli

The code of silence evolves from habits formed during the first years of life. From an early age, children are taught how to get along with their siblings and friends, how to share, how to be fair and how to play together. They learn to negotiate with others, to compromise, to compete, to win and to lose. In time, unfortunately, they also learn to manipulate, to be vindictive, to hurt, to bully, to retaliate, to victimize, to defy and a multitude of other negative responses to life’s challenges. Children learn these “skills” from their peers, their brothers and sisters, their parents, television and a whole new generation of computer-based entertainment.

Somewhere along the line, they also learn to tattle. Because tattling is self-centered and typically is used only to get someone else in trouble, parents often discourage their children from telling on each other, encouraging them instead to get along, “play nice” and work out their own difficulties without adult intervention. Over time, this reluctance to tattle evolves into a code of silence – an unspoken yet clearly understood commitment to their peers that they will not disclose even the most disturbing and dangerous information about each other to adults.

Adults and students need to understand there is a clear difference between tattling or “snitching” to get someone in trouble and disclosing disturbing information to save lives, prevent harm or right a wrong. First and foremost students need to understand that difference and they need to know that we want and need their help preserve a safe, healthy educational community.

Students also need to hear that the collective benefit of reporting or informing adults about unsafe activity is that they get to attend the kind of school they want to attend, a school where the climate is friendly, warm, respectful and supportive. Finally students should understand that, individually and collectively, they can play an essential role in helping to maintain safety and can make a dramatic difference in preserving such a climate.

What are some elements that need to be present in the school culture that would encourage student to confide in adults?

• Trust. Adults must earn students’ trust. Students will trust adults when they know the adults are listening to them and care for their well-being, when adults ask for their opinions on important matters that affect their day-to-day activities, and when adults include them on planning and advisory committees. Unless they trust adults and know that their anonymity and confidentiality will be protected, students will not feel comfortable and safe about going to adults to disclose troubling information.

• Visibility. Students will feel safe when they frequently see adults in close proximity to other students. Students who are inclined to harass, bully, or harm others will be discouraged from doing so and will have fewer opportunities available to them if adults are nearby. By being available, staff member – including administrators, teachers, school resource officers, and support staff – not only serve as visual deterrents, but they make it easier for students to talk to them and develop informal, yet positive interpersonal relationships. There should be no place in the school or on school grounds that disruptive students can claim as they sanctuary, no place where other students are afraid to go because there are not adults around.

In addition, students’ comfort level with adults and respect for them will increase when they see adults at extracurricular activities. By taking a genuine interest in students’ activities outside the classroom, adults show that they care about students and support their involvement in those activities.

• School Climate. A positive, nurturing school environment does not happen by accident. Establishing such an atmosphere must be an ongoing goal of the highest priority and all members of the school community must contribute to, participate in and reinforce that goal. The climate must be characterized by an institutional emphasis on the worth of the individual. That emphasis must permeate all aspects of • school operations, including the curriculum. Schools must emphasis decency, respect, cooperation, fair play, tolerance and civility in everyday expectations for everyone.

• Information Hotlines. With a hotline in place, potentially dangerous situations can be reported anonymously by students, parents, or community members without fear of reprisal. Schools that have hotlines must publicize them and encourage their use.

• Reinforced codes of discipline. Students must be regularly alerted to the school’s discipline policies. Major policies that prohibit gang activity, drug and alcohol use, sexual or other forms of harassment, bullying hazing, use of weapons and violence in any form need to be covered thoroughly and often.

The consistent message students need to hear is that all students have a right to learn and work in an environment in which all are respected and valued and that the school will do everything in its power to ensure that students are safe and protected. They need to hear that students who engage in misconduct are accountable for their behavior and will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

Maintaining safe schools is an awesome responsibility and one that must be shared. It is our job to help students feel comfortable and safe about speaking out on things that matter.