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Uncooperative witnesses create road block for law enforcement

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Uncooperative witnesses create road block for law enforcement
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It's a road block that police continue to hit. Victims and witnesses of violent crimes who won't talk to detectives. Prosecutors said it's a trend that has grown during the past decade. YNN's Sarah Blazonis tells us more about what law enforcement has to deal with.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse Police responded to two shooting incidents Monday. One on Merriman Ave. and another on Gifford Street. Different incidents, same problem: uncooperative victims.

"It's something we've been dealing with for a very long time. This is not a new phenomenon," said Onondaga County First Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio.

Trunfio said this code of silence has become ingrained in some neighborhoods.

"We have actually had investigators go to convenient stores and buy T-shirts that they're selling that warn 'Don't Snitch,'" he said.

What started out as part of the gang culture, has now spread to law abiding citizens.

"You have to testify in court, and that's what many people are afraid of," Trunfio said. "They're afraid of even talking to police and giving them information."

One neighborhood working to foster a close relationship with police is the Near Westside. The Near Westside Initiative founded a Police Delegation more than a year ago.

"There was a lot of discussion about police surveillance cameras being installed in the community which caused kind of a lot of uproar temporarily," said Maarten Jacobs, the initiative's executive director.

The group holds activities where police and residents can interact.

"We still have a long way to go," said Jacobs. "I think there's just a higher level of understanding or patience."

Trunfio said the efforts need to go even further. He said residents have to realize the only way to turn their neighborhoods around is to cooperate with police.

"It's like a school yard bully. When you stand up to the school yard bully, they stop becoming a bully. And that's the message," said Trunfio.

Federal legislation is in the works that would toughen penalties on anyone who tries to intimidate witnesses.

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