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IACP Project Safe Neighborhoods: Witness Intimidation in the Era of Social Media

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2016
3 pages
In advancing the mission of the International Association of Chiefs of Police's (IACP) Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, which aims to improve law enforcement's capacity to interdict firearms trafficking and disrupt gang activity, this Fact Sheet discusses witness intimidation in the era of social media, including an example of this type of witness intimidation.
In 2013, a police officer monitoring Twitter found an Instagram account entitled, "rats215." It contained photos of a witness and court records. This account was dedicated to exposing witnesses ("rats") in violent crimes across Philadelphia (215 is the area code for Philadelphia). By the time the account was shut down, it had gained nearly 7,900 followers, identified just over 30 witnesses in violent crimes, and had posted approximately 150 photos. Those who witness an alleged crime are not the only witnesses to be harassed and threatened online. One target of such intimidation was a domestic-violence expert witness for the defense in the Jodi Arias murder trial. The ability to share and re-share content is a central function of social media, providing those who seek to intimidate witnesses with a reach greater than in the past. Secretly recorded court testimony, pictures of witnesses (including law enforcement), and case documents have all been posted to various accounts in an effort to garner aggressive, threatening comments against persons involved in court cases in various capacities as witnesses or court personnel. Suggestions are offered for law enforcement countermeasures, including educating victims and witnesses about social-media intimidation and how to report it and obtain evidence of it, and checking regularly with witnesses about any online intimidation. 3 references and 9 notes

Date Published: September 1, 2016