Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Witness Intimidation

The table below summarizes the responses to witness intimidation, the mechanisms by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors that should be considered before a particular response is implemented. It is critical that responses are tailored to local circumstances and that each response can be justified based upon reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses, because law enforcement alone is seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.


General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
1 Forming multi-agency partnerships Ensures that witnesses are protected throughout the process of reporting crime and testifying at trial ... specific interagency agreements detail the roles and responsibilities of each agency Crafting formalized agreements takes time; agency staff must ensure the confidentiality of witnesses; shared responsibilities can result in blurred accountability for delivery of services
2 Limiting liability Document all measures taken on behalf of witnesses in case of legal challenges … reports of intimidation are taken seriously; absolute protection is not guaranteed; witnesses are involved in decisions about protective measures Despite the best efforts of police, witnesses may still be harmed, which can adversely affect future cooperation
3 Strengthening ties between police and the community Encourages cooperation in criminal cases; increases police visibility, which can instill a greater sense of security in community residents … a connection is made between cooperation and a reduction in gang and drug-related violence; outreach efforts are specially tailored for Asian and other immigrant communities Outreach efforts require time and patience; rate of reported intimidation is likely to increase and will require additional resources; could inspire increased efforts from intimidators
4 Assessing the risk of intimidation Ensures that decisions about protective measures are consistent, fair, and objective … assessments are conducted periodically to determine if protective measures are sufficient; results of assessments are shared with witnesses Could marginalize witnesses who do not meet the criteria for more intensive modes of protection; standardized assessments may not capture case-specific nuances
5 Choosing the best strategy Limits the situations in which witnesses need to appear in court … an array of options are available, including criminal prosecution and civil remedies Civil penalties may be too lenient, particularly when used in response to violent crime
Protecting Witnesses
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
6 Minimizing the risk of identification witnesses face when reporting crime or offering statements Provides safe and confidential avenues for communication between residents and police … witnesses are provided with a choice of methods to report crime or to make statements Follow-up visits require additional police time; plainclothes officers may still be identifiable; some information may be lost if witnesses decide not to follow up with police
7 Protecting the identity of witnesses Prevents offenders from learning the names and addresses of witnesses … new procedures are developed that limit the types of information that are broadcast over police radios; balance is found between witness safety and the right of defendants to cross-examine witnesses Witnesses cannot be guaranteed full anonymity
8 Using alarms and other crime prevention devices Makes unauthorized entry into witnesses’ homes more difficult and gives witnesses a greater sense of security; ensures that instances of intimidation will receive a rapid response … witnesses are trained to use devices properly; witnesses use the devices continuously Security devices can be costly; improper use may increase the rate of false alarms
9 Reducing the likelihood of contact between witnesses and offenders Minimizes opportunities for intimidation … routines are varied; witnesses are committed to using avoidance tactics May be inconvenient for witnesses, resulting in lower compliance
10 Transporting witnesses to and from work, school, etc. Deters intimidators from making contact with witnesses because of the risk of observation or intervention by escort … escort services are reserved for those at high risk of injury Escort schemes consume significant police resources and may not be feasible for broad application; presence of an escort may draw unwanted attention to the witness
11 Supporting witnesses Addresses the emotional impact of victimization to make cooperation less daunting and to better prepare witnesses to provide accurate information … victim advocates have access to a wide range of services to address the constellation of witness needs; advocates are properly trained so that their actions do not compromise the integrity of the case Victim advocates cannot be solely responsible for supporting all witnesses, lest they become overburdened
12 Keeping witnesses and defendants separated at the courthouse Reduces the opportunities for intimidation; deters criminal associates from attending trial and behaving in an intimidating fashion … witnesses are accompanied by an advocate or volunteer while they are on-call at the courthouse May be difficult to accomplish depending on the layout of the courthouse; one-to-one assistance can be difficult to implement if multiple witnesses require services on the same day
13 Relocating witnesses Removes witnesses from the danger area … costs are minimized by placing witnesses with friends or relatives; witnesses obey all rules regarding contact with their home communities; additional services are available to address witnesses’ emotional, financial, and domestic needs Witnesses may not be willing to obey program rules; location of new housing may be compromised; witnesses with criminal backgrounds may present a risk to public safety in their new communities; child custody and other legal issues must be managed; the emotional impact on witnesses can be severe
Deterring Intimidators
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
14 Admonishing intimidators Deters intimidators by making them aware of the penalties for their actions … police confront intimidators and their families and associates; judges are informed of typical courtroom-based intimidation tactics May have limited effectiveness in gang and drug-related cases
15 Requesting high bail and no contact orders Reduces the opportunities for intimidators to confront witnesses in the community … victim impact statements are presented at bond hearing; release conditions and the consequences for their violation are clearly articulated Time between offense and arrest leaves ample time for intimidation to occur; friends and family may still intimidate witness; defendants may be able to contact witnesses by phone, even while incarcerated; bail for intimidation is typically low; jail crowding may prevent the incarceration of potential intimidators
16 Increasing penalties for intimidation Deters offenders by increasing risk … intimidation is a felony-level offense; sentences must be served consecutively Cases of intimidation are difficult to prove; no general deterrent effect
17 Prosecuting intimidators Deters offenders by increasing risk … intimidation is a consideration in revoking parole or probation Cases of intimidation can be difficult to prove
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
18 Increasing patrol in target area Increases surveillance of danger area   Consumes considerable resources; chances of actually intervening in an incident are slim
19 Compelling witnesses to testify Transfers responsibility for the decision to testify from the witness to the prosecutor   May backfire and cause witnesses to claim they do not remember the events in question; may not eradicate the perception that witnesses are cooperating voluntarily