Most often, victims did not report crime because they believed that the incident was too trivial to involve police or that the matter was personal (Karmen 2004; Catalano 2005).That said, small-scale studies and surveys of police and prosecutors suggest that witness intimidation is pervasive and increasing.Intimidation is usually perpetrated by those involved in the original offense, although the original offender’s friends, family members, and criminal associates may also threaten or harm witnesses. In gang-related crimes, friends, family members, and associates may be more likely to threaten and intimidate witnesses. In addition to gang and drug-related crimes, intimidation is particularly prevalent in cases involving domestic violence, bias crime, harassment, and sex offenses. In contrast, cases involving property crime, such as burglary or car theft, are rarely affected by intimidation. Although intimidation is a key feature of gang and drug-related violence, the offenders are not necessarily aligned with nationally affiliated gangs or large drug operations; members of loosely affiliated gangs and local dealers may also protect their interests through intimidation. Surveys suggest that offenders with a sophisticated understanding of the criminal justice system may be less willing to engage directly in intimidation and will either refrain from attempting to intimidate witnesses or will permit others to intimidate witnesses on their behalf. Victims of intimidation are not a homogeneous group.Although all citizens who agree to serve as witnesses need to be protected from reprisals, their vulnerability depends largely upon circumstance and may therefore change over time.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.For example, a general lack of trust in the police may deter some witnesses from cooperating.
Although the problem of witness intimidation has special significance for prosecutors, it also has important implications for police.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.Witness intimidation deprives investigators and prosecutors of critical evidence, often preventing suspects from being charged or causing cases to be abandoned or lost in court.In addition, witness intimidation lowers public confidence in the criminal justice system and creates the perception that the criminal justice system cannot protect the citizenry.The term “victim” is used to denote the victim of the initial crime.†† Witnesses refuse to cooperate with police for reasons that are not related to intimidation.Either way, they are deterred from offering relevant information that might assist police and prosecutors.Particularly in communities dominated by gang and drug-related crime, residents have seen firsthand that offenders are capable of violence and brutality.† Drive-by shootings and other acts of blatant violence promote fear among residents, as do actions specifically warning residents not to cooperate with police.In 2004, gang members from Baltimore, Maryland appeared in a DVD entitled Stop Snitching, in which they threaten harm to those who cooperate with police.