FORT MYERS, Fla. — Witnesses to a crime are often in the midst of traumatic circumstances that make it difficult to remember detail, law enforcement experts say.
A well-meaning passerby isn’t always the most reliable source. Authorities account for that error as they decide how to act on the information they gather, according to Collier County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rebecca Gonzalez.
“When somebody says specifically ‘a black Nissan,’ we don’t just go with ‘a black Nissan.’ We go for any black vehicle,” Gonzalez said.
Crimes can take place in a matter of seconds, and the ability of a witness to remain calm is key. Dennis Fahey, a criminal justice professor at Florida SouthWestern State College, recommends focusing on one detail at a time.
The best witnesses calmly spot identifying information like the color of a suspect’s hair, shoes or shirt and write those facts down.
Taking cellphone video can be even more helpful for law enforcement, Gonzalez said.
But ultimately, safety should be priority No. 1. Witnesses shouldn’t get too close to the scene and risk turning into victims, the experts say.