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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today that the Department of Justice has received a $50,000 grant from the Office of Justice Assistance to establish a pilot program in Milwaukee County for witness protection. DOJ worked with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to develop the victim and witness protection and security (WITSEC) pilot program.
"John Chisholm has identified the lack of a witness protection program in Milwaukee as a major contributor to violent crime. I wanted to do what I could to help," said Van Hollen.
"This victim and witness protection and security pilot program will provide proactive protection of crime victims and witnesses and will proactively investigate witness-tampering crimes," said Van Hollen. "By removing the threat, we increase the chances that threatened witnesses will testify, improving the chances of obtaining convictions."
The incidents where victims and witnesses are most frequently subjected to physical harm, intimidation, bribery and threats generally involve crimes of homicide, shootings and domestic violence. The WITSEC unit will seek to identify the defendants most likely to engage in criminal efforts intending to hinder prosecution, whether through threats of harm or witness bribery.
"Witnesses who are threatened often do not appear in court. It puts the whole criminal justice system at risk," said Van Hollen. "A threat to a victim or witness is a threat not only to the individual, but to the criminal justice system."
In addition to the pilot project, Attorney General Van Hollen has made a criminal investigation agent available on request to supplement District Attorney Chisholm's investigative unit, which actively investigates crimes involving witness tampering.
The pilot project is aimed at reducing violent crime in Milwaukee and enabling the successful prosecution of underlying crimes. The project will run through the summer, and Attorney General Van Hollen will evaluate its success to determine whether to recommend the creation of similar, ongoing projects throughout the state.