State committee to consider violent crime measure

January 12, 2010 9:58:49 PM PST
Witnessing a violent crime and failing to report it, could soon bring a fine or even jail time in California. It comes after bystanders watched, cheered, and possibly even took pictures during the gang rape of a Richmond girl last fall. There is now a push in Sacramento to punish that type of behavior.

It was one of the most disturbing details about the crime, that over the course of the 2.5 hour gang rape of a Richmond high student outside her homecoming dance, a dozen people may have watched and done nothing.

"I would call the police especially, if someone was getting raped. I wouldn't let them get raped like that," says Michael Burton from Richmond.

Others say fear of retaliation makes going to the police not worth the risk.

"I probably wouldn't put myself in it, but I'd probably advise someone else, like somebody next to me to call the police. [I'd say] something is going on over there," says Chaquine Richards from Richmond.

However, doing nothing could become illegal. A bill approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee, sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, would make it a misdemeanor for witnesses to not report violent crimes.

"You would hope that people would have enough of a connection to people in the community to want to help them, if they see them being hurt, and the other part of it is that if you don't come to their aid that there is a little bit more of an incentive," says Nava.

In California it is now a crime only if witnesses fail to report violence against victims 14 or younger.

Richmond police are endorsing another bill out of Sacramento by state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, which would require witnesses to report violent crimes against minors, rather than victims of any age.

"In this case our victim was 16 and I don't think I could have found somebody who was more vulnerable than her that night. She absolutely needed protection and it's offensive to know that people who could have helped her didn't," says Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.

The penalty for violating Nava's proposed law would be six months in jail and a $1,500.

Still, those working for Peace on Richmond Streets say the threat fails to address the larger issue.

"I don't see it really making a difference. I think it's really more educating the community, educating our youth on making decisions and not being put in a situation of doing something like that," says Gonzalo Rucobo from the group Bay Area Peacekeepers.

Only a handful of other states have similar laws.