INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There is a new push to make a witness protection program in Indianapolis a reality. A bill filed this week could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Marion County in hopes of getting more witnesses to cooperate with investigations.
The proposed legislation comes after Indianapolis reached a record number of homicides for 2017.
Senate bill 150 calls for things like physical protection, relocation and even counseling for witnesses to crimes. The language in the bill emphasizes helping those who can help get convictions for gang-related violence and domestic abuse.
Moments after a life is taken on the streets of Indianapolis, the red and blue police lights mark another violent incident and another family facing loss. But, getting witnesses to share their accounts creates an obstacle to justice.
“We face the same issues every single week,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. “So, it can be that a witness feels intimidated, frightened. It could be they abide by the ‘no snitch’ code of the streets or individuals who are going to get their own justice.”
Curry said he has a growing pile of cases that fell apart because those who saw the crime happen feel too unsafe to speak up or just don’t want to cooperate.
“Even when we get to the point where we can file a case, we have witnesses who recant on us, who back up on us, all the time,” Curry said.
Some cases do not even make it to the prosecutor’s office. A spokesperson for IMPD said their current homicide clearance rate is approximately 42 percent.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Curry said.
Curry met with some state lawmakers last summer to the discuss the issue and those conversations led to SB 150.
Senator Jean Breaux is calling for $200,000 a year, for three years, to go to Marion and Vanderburgh counties for a witness protection pilot program.
“There’s fear for repercussions,” Breaux said. “There is a real need for the prosecutors to have the resources to protect the individuals who are going to help close these cases.”
On the local level, Mayor Joe Hogsett asked for $300,000 to be set aside for witness protection efforts in Indianapolis. The money is awaiting council approval.