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After rash of shootings in Utica, Schumer pushing for federal witness intimidation laws

By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer wants to put the weight of the federal government behind fighting witness intimidation, coming to Utica on Thursday to sound the battle cry.

"We have to send a crystal-clear message that the federal government will help local law enforcement protect witnesses," said Schumer at a press conference outside the Utica Police Department.

Currently, witness intimidation is a state crime, punishable by up to seven years in state prison. Schumer wants to make it a federal crime, punishable by up to 30 years, depending on the severity of the intimidation.

The move would also put more plentiful, federal resources behind fighting the crime. Schumer says a rash of nearly 40 shots fired calls in Utica for the month of August alone helped prompt him to propose the law, especially after police told him about roadblocks they'd encountered while investigating the rash of shootings.

"Police investigators had to actually stop canvassing a neighborhood because people watching the canvas were yelling, 'snitch' at anyone who looked like they were cooperating with police," said Schumer.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara says once people are prosecuting for the federal-level crime and suffering more severe punishments, word will get out and it will become a deterrent.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives would have to sign the bill into law before it reaches the President for his signature. Schumer's office hopes that vote will happen in the next few months.

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