Inquirer Editorial: High-tech intimidation

Witness intimidation is blatant in some neighborhoods.

Residents of crime-infested neighborhoods are often criticized for not being more cooperative with law enforcement, but there’s a reason for that — fear.

That reality became clearer with today’s exclusive story in The Inquirer revealing the existence of a social-media account that has been identifying witnesses to violent crimes across the city.

The Instagram account, called Rats215, aims to “expose rats,” its anonymous creator said, obviously so any person discovered working with the police can be targeted for intimidation, or worse.

The Inquirer article, written by Aubrey Whelan and Mike Newall, said Rats215 had nearly 8,000 followers. In one instance, it posted photos and evidence from a case that was handled in a secret grand jury.

In another, the Instagram account posted a photo that appeared to have been taken while a witness was testifying in court.

Police learned of the Instagram account when an officer monitoring Twitter spotted photos of a witness and court records from a 2012 attempted shooting.

The site has since become inaccessible, but police investigators working with the department’s criminal intelligence unit are trying to find the account-holder. Instagram representatives said they were looking into the matter.

Here’s hoping the culprit is found soon, even though the Instagram account is only the most technologically advanced method of instilling fear in too many Philadelphia neighborhoods.

In most cases, word of mouth is all it takes to let thugs know who is cooperating with police, and for that person to become a target for retaliation.

It’s an arduous task, but the hard work by police and other law enforcement officials to make it safe for people to tell the truth must continue, so their neighborhoods can become the safe communities that most people desire.