Police, prosecutors and neighborhood activists are decrying a second social media account dedicated to intimidating people who cooperate with police.
Mayor Dennis Williams, Police Chief Bobby Cummings and others in law enforcement cite the inability to find witnesses as a primary reason for the lack of arrests in the rising number of shootings and homicides in the city.
An Instagram account with a username, “officiallyoutold” has posted court and police records that reveal people who have spoken with police or testified to Wilmington and Delaware authorities about crimes from shootings and drug busts to property damage and harassment.
There are 68 posts on the account, which dates to late July. In addition to the court documents, it also features internet memes related to ratting out criminals.
“Officiallyoutold” makes at least the second Instagram account The News Journal has found that appears to intimidate the public into not speaking to police. The previous account, which was taken down in January, went by the username “wilmington_snitches” and posted three pictures that showed handwritten names of people who had cooperated with authorities, including their addresses.
Shortly after The News Journal began asking about the account, its creators took it down.
An official with the state Office of the Attorney General said the agency is aware of the most recent account.
“We take any witness tampering or witness intimidation very seriously because a lack of witness cooperation is the biggest obstacle to successful prosecutions,” spokesman Joseph Rogalsky said in an email.
Rogalsky pointed to a state law passed earlier this year that increased the likelihood of prison time for those found guilty of witness intimidation.
The “officiallyoutold” postings include pictures of court transcripts mentioning witnesses, a private criminal complaint and probable cause statements. On several of the postings, the account points out the name of the person who “ratted out.” Several of the postings have drawn comments from followers condemning the “rats.”
The account also includes pictures of a personal letter in which the writer contemplates “snitching” to hopefully reduce his sentence. The account highlights the letter’s author.
Sgt. Walter Ferris, who oversees Wilmington’s community police officers, said neighborhoods can’t let themselves get intimidated by criminals. Not cooperating only keeps criminals from drawing police attention, he said.
“People have to realize they’re making money by you not talking to police,” he said during a community event Thursday night at the McDonald’s on West Fourth Street. “So what [if you talk to police]? You’re standing up for your neighborhood.”
Ferris said criminals can’t go after an entire neighborhood, much less a block, if every concerned resident is unafraid to speak up.
Ferris said he’d like to see a local safe zone get created in the future to help protect witnesses who help law enforcements take down criminals.
“It’s going to take action like that before we can overthrow the idea of ‘no snitching,'” he said.
Wilmington police spokeswoman Sgt. Andrea Janvier said the department regularly monitors and works to try to shutdown social media activities that can be detrimental to public safety.
“That doesn’t help us at all,” she said about accounts like “officiallyoutold.” “We try to reach out to have people communicate and help us, and that destroys that trust.”
Keesa Anderson, who founded a Wilmington peace group called Sweep the Streets, said social media activities like “officiallyoutold” have left her “speechless.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “This is why people are scared to speak up about people who might have committed murders.”
Anderson founded Sweep the Streets a little more than a year ago in memory of her son Jermaine Goins Jr., who was gunned down in August 2013. The group regularly ventures into hotspots where it distributes information about anonymous tip lines.
Anderson said she has disdain for Instagram, which she said she would immediately shut down if she could.
Much of Anderson’s disapproval of the popular social media tool is rooted to her son’s killing, which she said she initially learned about through Instagram. She said she never worked herself up to look at the photos, but learned about the incident through family who called her on that fateful day to tell her that photos of Goins’ body had surfaced on Instagram.
“Who wants to see anybody, an actual … dead person with the back of their head blown off?” She said. “It’s very distasteful, to even want to take a picture like that and put it on social media.”
Anderson said the Instagram posts of her son are yet another reason why she’s baffled about the lack of people who have stepped up to talk to police about the incident.
“I know they’ve seen something, they were right there,” she said.
Anderson questions the point of creating accounts to scare off witnesses.
“You can’t get mad at someone for telling if you did a crime. You’re eventually going to get caught some kind of way,” she said. “What is the purpose? What are you trying to get out of this?”
Contact Yann Ranaivo at (302) 324-2837, email@example.com or on Twitter @YannRanaivo.