By Congressman Kweisi Mfume
As we work to build a community that offers our young people more opportunities so they do not view a life of crime as their only option or the path of least resistance, we must also remind ourselves and our neighbors that we have a duty to stay engaged and informed about who is doing what in our communities. As importantly, we have a duty to speak up and be heard when we see something that is not right. This includes calling the police and helping to prosecute criminals who try to hold us and our neighborhoods hostage.
To make it a little easier for witnesses to work with law enforcement agencies, including police and prosecutors, I recently introduced the “Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2021” in the United States House of the Representatives. This legislation authorizes the United States Attorney General to distribute $150 million in grants over five years for programs nationwide that would protect witnesses in violent felony cases, including domestic violence cases, homicides, serious drug offenses, and gang-related crimes.
We all know witnesses in criminal cases are a key to building an effective criminal justice system. For too long, the stop-snitching culture and intimidation tactics have deprived law enforcement of an essential tool we need to get criminals off our streets – witnesses. Without good people who step up to do the right thing, prosecutors often cannot build a case against even the most despicable criminals. The Witness Security and Protection Act works to address that problem.
Through the pandemic, courts have often been closed and some of the fees and other costs associated with trials and case filings have hurt local revenue typically set aside for helping witnesses with transportation and relocation. This bill would address some of those recent funding shortfalls and keep budgets on target for fighting crime.
The premise is coming forward to help protect our communities should not be a financial burden or a danger to people who want to help law enforcement officials. Grant funds provided through the legislation can be used in various ways, such as relocating people assisting police and prosecutors to temporary housing, providing transportation for witnesses testifying in criminal cases, or providing financial assistance to a victim in need of childcare while doing his or her civic duty.
In addition to funding, the bill requires the United States Attorney General’s Office to establish best practices protocols for securing and relocating witnesses. Local law enforcement agencies will apply for the programs established under the legislation, using financing need and the capacity to establish programs that can be duplicated across the country as some of the review criteria.
My friend and colleague Senator Ben Cardin introduced the companion version of this bill in the United States Senate. We believe this legislation will make a difference for communities and law enforcement agencies in Maryland and throughout the country.
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