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For Crime Witnesses, Family Safety Can Outweigh A Community's Security

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Every time Chicago has an enormous jump violence, police ask for the public's help to solve crimes.

They say a no-snitching culture in some neighborhoods hurts community safety.

But as CBS 2's Jim Williams reports, it's fear that keeps many from talking to investigators.

"I was involved in gangs and ultimately drug activity."

When Chico Tillmon was arrested nearly 25 years ago, he said prosecutors offered him a deal.

"I was approached with the opportunity to not go to prison, provided I gave information on everybody in the neighborhood. I decided against it."

Tillmon feared his testimony would put his loved ones in the Austin community in danger.

"My mom, my brother, my children."

Tillmon went to prison for more than 16 years. In violence-plagued communities, fear of retaliation is everywhere. Even among innocent witnesses.

When asked if anyone from the Safe Landing Body of Christ Church had ever said they witnessed a crime but were too scared to come forward, Reverend Charles Raymond said "yes. A lot of people do not want to get involved."

One recently retired Chicago police officer with more than 30 years on the job told CBS 2 he was thwarted hundreds of times.

"Officer, I can't," he recalled witnesses saying. "They are watching us right now. I have to live here."

Today, Tillmon is executive director of the Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Program of the YMCA.

He believes greater cooperation could be created by a healthier relationship between the community and police.

"So that individuals will feel more comfortable talking to police," said Tillmon.

He said he is welcomed in Austin today, in part because he did not testify against others in the drug trade. That, he said, helps his violence prevention work.

According to Chicago police, there are anonymous ways to contact them with information that would help them solve crimes. They can do it online or they can text.

Visit the YMCA's Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Program website for more information on the program's mission, initiatives and how to get involved.

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