The Justice Department is taking to the television airwaves this fall urging Americans to be more active in reporting crimes. Attorney General Edwin Meese III has announced that starting Sept. 1, four 30-second public-service announcements will be aired on some 400 television stations nationwide.
One of the department's advertisements reenacts the so-called Kitty Genovese incident.
In 1964, the 28-year-old woman was chased, assaulted, and eventually murdered in her Queens, New York, neighborhood. Though the assault lasted more than 30 minutes, not a single neighbor called the police. It was later determined that 38 neighbors had heard her cries for help, but no one did anything.
``The criminal-justice system cannot control crime effectively unless citizens do their part,'' Mr. Meese said.
The campaign is designed to counter what some sociologists see as widespread apathy among many Americans. The television ads are aimed at individuals who may turn away from a crime in progress or refuse to testify in court because they simply don't want to get involved.
According to Justice Department statistics, nearly half of all violent crimes committed in the United States go unreported.
``This can only be an incentive for even more crimes to occur,'' Meese said.
Another of the department's commercials features a street gang that has just completed a robbery. One of the gang members thanks the people who witnessed the crime but didn't call the police. ``Without people like you, where would we be?'' the gang member asks.
Donald Baldwin, executive director of the National Law Enforcement Council, says many people believe the criminal-justice system is simply a revolving door for criminals.
He says that some Americans feel that after they as witnesses have taken time off from work, endured months of postponed trial dates, and had their credibility questioned by defense attorneys, the criminals will ultimately be released and sent back out on the street to commit more crimes. Many people, he says, are asking: ``Why bother?''
Mr. Baldwin adds, ``They feel that many judges have been less than judicious. They feel that it is a waste of time.'' He says he hopes the television commercials help motivate the public to actively assist law enforcement officials.
Tom Finn of the National Sheriffs' Association notes that for some crime victims and witnesses, court appearances can be threatening and intimidating when they have to face a defendant's family and friends on the courthouse steps.
To correct this problem, the association has established a victim-witness program intended to reach out to individuals who may feel threatened because of their participation in a criminal investigation or trial.
``The plight of the witness and often of the victim in the criminal justice system has been ignored,'' Mr. Finn says. He adds that the message needs to get out that ``one person can make a difference.''
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans don't report crimes for a wide variety of reasons.
A 1981 survey of robbery victims who didn't report incidents to police, the survey showed: Some 21 percent felt nothing could be done to catch the thief; 15 percent felt it was a personal matter; 15 percent thought the crime wasn't important enough; 9 percent reported it to someone other than the police; 6 percent said it would be too inconvenient to report it; and 7 percent feared reprisal.
A survey of rape victims disclosed that among those who didn't report the rape to police: 35 percent felt it was a personal and private matter; 18 percent felt nothing could be done to catch the attacker; 16 percent were afraid of reprisal; 8 percent reported the incident to someone other than the police; and 4 percent felt the incident wasn't important enough to report.