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Gang-Related Witness Intimidation

NCJ Number
John Anderson
Date Published
February 2007
9 pages
After reviewing the prevalence and tactics of witness intimidation by gangs, this bulletin describes existing witness-protection programs, with attention to comprehensive witness-security strategies.
In the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, witness intimidation by gang members was reported as a common occurrence by 66 percent of respondents, ranging from 44 percent in smaller communities to 83 percent in larger communities. The National Alliance of Gang Investigators Association reported in its 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment that today's gangs are "sophisticated and flagrant in their use of violence and intimidation tactics." The tactics of witness intimidation include overt/explicit threats, physical violence, implicit threats, property damage, and courtroom intimidation. Also, given the lack of cooperation in police investigations, it is not unusual for neighborhood residents to see gang members quickly returning to the streets following an arrest. This circumstance further frightens residents, making them feel vulnerable to retaliation when they cooperate with police. Witness-protection strategies and programs are currently being implemented at the Federal, State, and local levels. Comprehensive witness-protection programs address the most prevalent forerunner of victim intimidation, i.e., accessibility to defendant gang members of the names and addresses of the witnesses who will testify against them. The relocation of vulnerable, intimidated, or threatened witnesses and members of their immediate family is the surest way to protect the witnesses against harm. This is the main objective of the most effective witness-protection programs. Many States have witness-protection programs that reimburse local agencies for the cost of providing temporary protective services. Other tactics related to witness protection include requesting high bail, the vigorous prosecution of defendants who engage in witness intimidation, arrangement of immediate witness protection when needed and the establishment of "24/7" witness access to an investigating officer, a district attorney investigator, or even the prosecutor. 27 notes