WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (both D-Md.) have reintroduced legislation that would direct the U.S. Attorney General to award competitive grants to protect witnesses in violent crimes. The Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2018 (S. 2855/H.R. 5834) establishes a program geared to state and local governments to establish and maintain short-term witness protection programs in cases involving homicides, violent felonies, serious drug offenses, gang related crimes or organized crime. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh have expressed support for this bicameral legislation.
“We need to empower local and state prosecutors with the resources they need to protect the very witnesses who are essential to their investigations and keep criminals off our streets,” said Senator Cardin. “Witnesses want to do the right thing and testify, but they need to know that they and their families are safe from harm. This legislation will help ensure that prosecutors in Baltimore and elsewhere around the country are not stymied in their efforts to protect our communities.”
“For over a decade, I have pushed for more federal resources to secure the safe cooperation of witnesses,” Congressman Cummings said. “Without witnesses who feel safe working with police officers, the wheels of justice come to a screeching halt. We have seen people intimidated and even killed in Baltimore and elsewhere for trying to help bring about justice. This legislation will help state and local governments provide the specific kinds of services needed to protect witnesses and ensure they feel safe enough to testify in court.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, in the last week Baltimore reached a milestone of 100 homicides for 2018, “marking the second-fastest pace of killings in the city in a decade. At the current pace of violence, the city is likely to surpass 300 homicides for the fourth year in a row. Prior to the surge in killings that began in 2015, the city hadn’t seen 300 homicides in a single year since the 1990s.”
The Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act would provide $150 million in competitive grants — $30 million a year for five years — to state, local and tribal governments to establish witness assistance programs. The bill also requires the Attorney General to collect data and best practices from the grantees and report this information back to Congress, States and other relevant entities. The Attorney General is also directed to ensure that, as practicable, grants are given to an equitable geographical distribution of programs throughout the country.
This is the third Congress that Cardin and Cummings have teamed up for a bicameral introduction of such legislation.