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The above information provides only a generalized description of the problem of witness intimidation. To combat witness intimidation effectively, you must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Only by carefully analyzing your local problem will you be able to design an effective remedial strategy.
The following groups have an interest in the witness intimidation problem and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:
Intimidation can occur at any time, from the point when a criminal incident first occurs to the moment the witness provides evidence in court; hence, it is essential to collaborate with prosecutors, victim advocates, and other stakeholders in analyzing and solving the problem. Because many witnesses drop out of the process before their cases go to court, it is essential to survey witnesses and victims at multiple points in the process so that their responses address all the reasons and issues that deter them from cooperating fully. Finally, police cannot respond effectively to a problem if they do not recognize its occurrence. Police awareness can be increased through training, shift briefings, and police newsletters. Guidance should be offered for spotting signs of intimidation; even something as simple as requiring officers taking statements or interviewing witnesses to ask about intimidation directly can be an effective analytical tool. Unfortunately, training curricula regarding the warning signs and typical behaviors of those who have been intimidated are not well developed.
The Philadelphia District Attorneys Office, Victim Services Division, utilizes a short interview guide to collect relevant facts about intimidation. It includes questions about the intimidator, type of intimidating conduct, and the time and place that the intimidation occurred. A copy of the interview guide is available in Finn and Healey (1996).
The following are some critical questions that you should ask in analyzing your local witness intimidation problem. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.
Measurement will allow you to determine the degree to which your efforts have succeeded and may also suggest how your responses can be modified to produce the intended results. In order to determine how serious the problem is, you should measure the extent of your problem before you implement responses; in that way, measuring the problem after responses have been implemented will allow you to determine whether your solutions have been effective. All measures should be implemented in both the target area and surrounding areas. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)
The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to witness intimidation:
The following may offer an indirect indication that the situation is improving:
The Savannah Police Department established a witness protection program with the goal of reducing the number of intimidation incidents. The number of incidents initially increased because police began to ask all victims and witnesses if they felt afraid or had experienced intimidation, rather than relying on victims and witnesses to initiate the discussion (Goldkamp, Gottfredson and Moore 1999).
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