Victim and Witness Assistance Program helps people feel safe to share info to police

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The Victim and Witness Assistance Program is helping police investigate violent crimes.

After a violent crime, police say a witness or victim may be afraid to share information. Sometimes they fear retaliation. While the program is not witness protection, it does help people feel safe and allows prosecutors to hold the criminals accountable.

"That is one of the biggest pieces the community can play is just providing us the information," said Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of IMPD.

Deputy Chief McCartt said victims and witnesses of violent crimes play a crucial role in their investigations. In some rare cases, police can get a video of what happened. But, investigators need to hear from eyewitnesses and victims.

"Reducing the violence and reducing crime in our community isn’t just a job for law enforcement but it is truly a job for the entire community," he said.

Testimony from witnesses and victims helps police establish probable cause and allows investigators to make arrests.

In 2018, IMPD and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office spent $58,461 of the $300,000 fund. In 2019, they spent an additional $165,855.75.

Funding for the Victim and Witness Assistance Program can be used to help someone pay for temporary housing so he or she feels safe to share information.

City officials believe more money was spent in 2019 because more people are finding out about the program. The program was also not fully operational until a few months into 2018.

In 2019, IMPD says the fund kept 15 families, a total of 45 people, safe while they aided in the investigation and prosecution of 15 cases for IMPD.

"Usually we meet people on the worst day of their lives and so we see every range of emotion there," said Lisa Brown, the Victim Assistance Manager.

Brown has helped victims of crimes for 26 years. She works closely with IMPD. Sometimes she goes to the crime scene with officers to talk to the victims. Her unit is concerned about the emotional recovery of a victim.

"Let’s say someone witnessed a homicide and if they cooperate with police, they could potentially be in danger of where they are living so they may need some financial resources to help with temporary housing," Brown said.

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears says sometimes witnesses voluntarily relocate to a friend's place outside of Marion County. This program allows his office to bring the person back in order to help prosecutors in a successful prosecution.

"We would not be able to build cases without the cooperation and help of the community. We are grateful the community is more and more willing to come forward and help us mount successful prosecutions," said Mears.

Mears said the money can even be used to pay for a month's rent. He believes this program allows his office to keep people safe.

"We had a murder case where the Saturday before trial a witness was concerned about their safety," Mears said. "Because of this program, I had the resources to get that individual moved into a hotel. They came in. They cooperated. That defendant was convicted of murder."

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