Combatting Witness Intimidation to Improve Victim and Witness Cooperation, Law Enforcement Investigation & Prosecution

"Historically, witness intimidation is closely associated with organized crime and domestic violence, but current efforts to investigate and prosecute drug, gang, violent, and other types of crime are also severely hindered by intentional or cultural intimidation of witnesses." The effects include underreporting of crime, reluctance of witnesses to "get involved" or even to speak with an officer or investigator, victims and witnesses who do not appear for statements or fail to show up for trial in response to a subpoena, or recantation on the stand.

Effectively combatting witness intimidation is challenging. Acts of intimidation are often committed in private, or subtly, so that only the intended target recognizes the threat. Some offenders use manipulation rather than heavy-handed overt threats to dissuade victims from testifying against them. Often the intimidation is not even recognized by the victim, let alone law enforcement or the prosecutor. Acts of intimidation are often overlooked in the focus on the "presenting problem"-the crime for which police were summoned. Special efforts must be made to prevent intimidation, recognize and identify it when it occurs, and develop appropriate responses that protect victims and their communities and hold offenders accountable-not only for the underlying crime, but for the attempts to subvert the criminal justice system.

Combatting Witness Intimidation (CWI) Initiative

AEquitas, Justice Management Institute (JMI), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) are partnering to support the implementation of practices that improve victim participation, investigations, and prosecutions by combatting witness intimidation. The goal of CWI is to provide technical assistance to up to three (3) local jurisdictions in implementing practices consistent with legal and evidence-based investigative and prosecution practices.

Previously, in September of 2010, AEquitas, JMI, and the Battered Women's Justice Project (BWJP) developed and implemented the Improving the Justice System Response to Witness Intimidation (IWI) project. As a result of this project, AEquitas and JMI developed numerous resources (included below) for evaluating victim and witness intimidation, as well as system vulnerabilities and responses, in an unprecedented way. As common patterns of intimidation and opportunities for intimidation were identified, the partners developed guidelines to determine the magnitude of intimidation in a community and promising practices to counter intimidation.

Jurisdictions will be supported and encouraged to improve the level and quality of victim and witness participation; to increase the safety and security of victims and witnesses; to improve law enforcement investigation of intimidation; and to eliminate the "payoff" for would-be intimidators by making effective use of evidence of intimidation. Jurisdictions will be better able to recognize and identify existing intimidation, reduce opportunities for intimidation throughout the criminal justice process, build capacity to mount effective responses to intimidation, and increase community trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. Participation affords jurisdictions the opportunity to help promote awareness nationally about effective strategies to combat the pernicious effects of witness intimidation.

The partners will work with sites to collect data about intimidation across the community and within the local criminal justice system, assist in implementing comprehensive responses, and evaluate the effectiveness of those responses over time. This partnership will amplify the impact of these efforts by developing additional tools to combat witness intimidation for real-world application by jurisdictions throughout the country.

Please see Combatting Witness Intimidation Initiative solicitation for more information, as well as our frequently asked questions.


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