Would You Make A Good Witness?

Friday, November 11th 2011, 10:01 am
By: News 9

A regular day of shopping. It's broad daylight in a busy parking lot. One act quickly turns things upside down. A thief comes out of nowhere and snatches your purse.

"It's a crime of opportunity," said Sgt. Tom Lantz with the Midwest City Police Department. "If someone sees a weakness, there's a good chance someone will jump on it."

With help from the Midwest City police department and a couple of actors, we staged a purse snatching, to see what onlookers would notice. Their descriptions vary:

"Red cap on backwards, sunglasses, off white shirt," one witness said.

Another said, "He was a short guy."

"I just saw him grab her purse and start running" another said.

Like many of us, one witness said he had something else on his mind and wasn't really sure what he saw.

QUIZ: Be a good witness

Sgt. Lantz says police depend on the public to catch most criminals and a specific description is crucial.

"Any kind of clothing that sticks out. If they're wearing a hat, if they have any tattoos."

And it starts with being alert.

"It seems like folks are always on the phone and maybe not quite paying attention to their surroundings," said Sgt. Lantz. "Just being observant will curb a lot of this crime."

But in a court of law, how reliable is witness testimony?

"I think all of us are a bit reluctant to come forward and get somebody in trouble, in part because we might be uncertain about what we saw," OCU Law professor Art Le Francois said.

Le Francois teaches his students that strong witnesses simply need to be honest and only tell what they saw, not what they assume happened. And don't assume someone else will help.

One witness said, "I know people don't want to get involved, but we have to be involved with each other. It might be mine next time."

If you're a victim, police say the most important thing to do is get around as many people as possible and scream to let others know something's wrong. Criminals don't want that attention drawn to them.