Oklahoma Legislation Creates Witness Protection Program, No Clear Plan To Fund It

Thursday, December 20th 2012, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa County's District Attorney says the number of people afraid to testify because their lives are in jeopardy is on the rise.

In response, the legislature told the Attorney General's office it must create a state witness protection program.

Witness intimidation is nothing new, but it is getting worse. Often times, charges must be dropped, cases dismissed and people who did terrible things, are set free to do more of the same.

"As we talk right now ... I have three cases where witnesses' lives are in danger because of their testimony," said DA Tim Harris.

Senate Bill 1505 created a state witness protection program and said it would be paid for out of the Attorney General's evidence fund or federal grants, but doesn't say how much will be spent to protect witnesses each year or whether it will cover things like witness relocation or around the clock police protection.

"I think if people had a place to go, even temporarily, in the city where they work, where their family is, their ties are, to keep them safe in their own city, then more people would come forward to tell the truth," Harris said.

Harris is working with the Mayor's office and Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries to see if some church buildings could be used as safe houses and church members could help feed and care for the witnesses while they're in hiding.

Right now, witnesses to crime are largely on their own.

"Intimidation, threats of violence to them, threats of violence to their family, their parents, their friends, their in-laws," said Harris. "We have to create an atmosphere where people feel they can come forward and do the right thing,"

Harris said the more people who come forward, the more good will triumph over evil, which will make our community a safer place to live and work.

We asked the Attorney General's office Thursday how much is in the evidence fund, how much can be spent each year to protect witnesses and what it will pay for, but we are waiting to hear back.