Community Minority Leaders: Witness Financial Incentives Do Not Address Real Issue of Violence

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  On Monday, Des Moines police announced a new program to offer financial incentives to witnesses who share information about crimes, but some community groups say that isn't enough to address the real problem in the city.

Creative Visions CEO, Ako Abdul-Samad says the financial incentive is a cosmetic solution to a systemic issue.

“Unfortunately, there is not one answer or one solution. Now we need some other things to happen,” he says. Abdul-Samad also questions if the incentive will work, saying, "It's set up so that individuals will give false leads."

Private donors gave nearly $50,000 to the police department to help encourage witnesses to come forward with information regarding the city’s 12 unsolved homicides from the past two years. City Council member Chris Coleman says, “We want there to be real rewards for people doing the right thing.”

Coleman lives in the Beaverdale neighborhood, a quiet neighborhood that has seen two deadly shootings within recent months. The incidents have sparked the neighborhood to consider relaunching its neighborhood watch program. It’s those incidents, along with the financial incentive, that has Abdul-Samad questioning the city’s recent call for action.

“We are dealing with perception. So now you have a community that is looking at that total situation, like did they come out because it went past the 50314 area code and it’s spilling into other neighborhoods?”

Abdul-Samad believes city leaders' initiative has good intentions, but says few people of color knew about the announcement or attended it. He applauded the city in taking a step towards addressing the violence, but fears city leaders are not being inclusive in their efforts.

“Even pastors that were there were from the Beaverdale neighborhood. You have other pastors who have been working diligently to address the issue of violence in the community, they weren't there."

He says community organizations must come together cohesively instead of trying to tackle the collective issue individually. He also points out he would like to start a long-term investment fund for jobs and educational programs. adding he would like to see police officers move into the the troubled areas of the city to build relationships.

Other minority leaders in the community add city leaders missed the mark with their announcement, focusing more in the private donors' partnerships instead of the problem.

“The uptick in violence is really the symptom of a deeper issue,” says Marvin DeJear, director of the Evelyn K. Davis Center.

DeJear also serves as a member on the Directors’ Council, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on the challenges minorities face within the community. He says joblessness plays a role in the city’s violent activity.

“In Polk County, we have an unemployment rate of 3%, but for African Americans in Polk County it's nearly 17%.

DeJear--along with other city leaders--is brainstorming ways to better provide African  Americans with community-wide opportunities, a solution that will take time to solve.

“This is a situation that, as many years you had to create the problems and issues these communities are facing, it's going to take just as much time to really help eradicate those situations.”