Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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Schumer pushes federal law to protect witnesses

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Buffalo: Schumer pushes federal law to protect witnesses
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It's an all too familiar sight for Buffalo Police - witnesses who are too afraid to testify to what they've seen because they're afraid of retaliation. It means a lot of crimes go unsolved, and a lot of people go unpunished, but as YNN's Katie Morse tells us, a new bill could help change that.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — From shootings to drug deals and other violence in the City of Buffalo, lawmakers say it's becoming more and more difficult to find witnesses to come forward and testify because of a common neighborhood phrase.

"Snitches get Stitches" has become such a popular saying that you can buy t-shirts with the phrase in stores around the city. Lawmakers say, that's helping spread the message gang members want out there.

But Senator Chuck Schumer says enough is enough. He was in Buffalo Monday to announce new legislation that would make intimidating a witness a federal crime.

"It sets tough new penalties for witness intimidation - it provides the same penalties that currently exist in court in the case of killing witnesses, including the possibility of the death sentence when appropriate," said Schumer.

Schumer says there were 50 murders in the City of Buffalo in 2012. Only 14 of them were solved. Under the new law, federal authorities, like the FBI and U.S. Marshals, could help local police more.

Police say it could make a big difference, especially in high-profile crimes like the City Grill shooting two years ago, where many people who saw what happened were too afraid to come forward because of retaliation.

"An eyewitness who testified had to be relocated through Erie County's witness protection program. Thugs will stoop to any level to terrorize the public, and prevent them from talking to police," said Schumer.

"I know some people were threatened, and we did move quickly to make arrests in those cases, but as the Senator said, the federal laws have more of a bite," explained Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.

Schumer is hoping to pass the law within three to four months.

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