Law enforcement supports bill to fight witness intimidation

Jul 3, 2012

Central New York law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are standing firmly behind a law pushed by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer that would get federal authorities involved in the witness intimidation investigating business. The Democrat senator from New York was in Syracuse to promote passage of the State Witness Protection Act, which would give prosecutors more tools to convince witnesses to come forward.

Over the last several weeks, there have been several shootings and stabbings in Syracuse, including one homicide. One thing in common as police investigate the crimes -- a lack of witnesses willing to testify. That's true even in the case of a daylight stabbing in downtown Syracuse where some witnesses videotaped  the crime with their phones. That's why Onondaga County's District Attorney William Fitzpatrick calls witness intimidation the biggest problem facing prosecutors today. Right now, the only tool authorities have is a contempt citation for witnesses that refuse to testify.

"You don't intimidate someone by saying you could get 30 days in jail by being held in contempt," said Fitzpatrick.

This new law would bring the power of federal prosecutors on the case.  And that's scary for criminals, according to Syracuse Deputy Police Chief Joe Cecile.

"I've been in front of hardcore gang members who's faces completely change when they hear they are facing a federal crime and federal jail time," said Cecile. "It changes from, 'I don't really care, I'm not going to tell you anything,' to 'what do I have to say to get out of this.'  Even hardcore gang members."

Schumer believes this legislation has the support to make it through Congress.