Rick Frei, professor of psychology at Community College of Philadelphia, will testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee next week about his Snitching Project, a study of what the Philadelphia Inquirer calls the city’s epidemic of witness intimidation. The mother of a young, murdered witness told the Inquirer in a series published last week, “Don’t tell nothing unless you can take care of yourself, because the city don’t have nothing in place to help you.” U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has scheduled a hearing of the crime subcommittee he chairs on witness intimidation in Philadephia courts. The hearing will include Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Frei polled 1,500 students at his college and found that people were not as afraid of physical retribution as they were of damage to their reputations. “To find out [someone’s] a snitch, one kid said, was like finding out a baseball player was using steroids,” Frei says. “People look at you differently. You can’t be trusted. Your family can’t be trusted. Even if [the victim] was a drug dealer who ruined the neighborhood. Students were more likely to want to cooperate if the victim was elderly or a child, infirm or known to the student. They were less likely to help if the victim of a crime dealt drugs.