This guide begins by describing the problem of witness intimidation and reviewing the factors that increase its risks.
Witness intimidation, however, is not the same as repeat victimization.
Although in both cases the same offenders may be responsible for multiple events, their motives are different.
In witness intimidation, the intent is to discourage the victim from reporting a crime to police or from cooperating with prosecutors, whereas in repeat victimization, the motive is often acquisitive.
However, repeat victims may believe that their subsequent victimization was in retaliation for reporting the initial crime, even where intimidation was not the motive. Citizens who witness or are victimized by crime are sometimes reluctant to report incidents to police or to assist in the prosecution of offenders.† Such reluctance may be in response to a perceived or actual threat of retaliation by the offender or his or her associates, or may be the result of more generalized community norms that discourage residents from cooperating with police and prosecutors.†† In some communities, close ties between witnesses, offenders, and their families and friends may also deter witnesses from cooperating; these relationships can provide a vitally important context for understanding witness intimidation.
Related problems not directly addressed in this guide, each of which require separate analysis, include: Some of these related crime problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide.
Although the problem of witness intimidation has special significance for prosecutors, it also has important implications for police.This guide focuses on the issues and responses that are most relevant to police, although useful resources for prosecutors are highlighted where appropriate.Witness intimidation plays a role in many types of crime and is related to other problems that police encounter during the course of an investigation.Particularly in violent and gang-related crime, the same individual may, at different times, be a victim, a witness, and an offender. Historically, witness intimidation is most closely associated with organized crime and domestic violence, but has recently thwarted efforts to investigate and prosecute drug, gang, violent, and other types of crime.† In this guide, the term “witness” is used to refer both to victims and to bystanders who could provide information to police.The term “victim” is used to denote the victim of the initial crime.