Witnesses to crimes get attention

PHILADELPHIA. A state lawmaker from Philadelphia introduced a bill Thursday to address the “stop snitching” culture by providing more money for witness relocation and adding prosecutors to the district attorney’s office to prosecute those who threaten witnesses.

Philadelphia’s poor felony conviction rate has been well documented over the past year and criminal justice officials largely attribute it to witnesses not coming forwarded due to the threat of retaliation. The House held a hearing on the issue last week in City Hall.

The bill would provide up to $2 million annually to the state’s witness relocation program, administered by the Attorney General’s office, more than doubling the money allocated this year.

The legislation must be approved by the House Judiciary Committee before a full House vote, but could face opposition given the state’s financial constraints.

“That is the biggest hurdle we face that the state budget is more than $1 billion into the red and the city budget isn’t much better,” admitted state Rep. Brendan Boyle, the bill’s sponsor, “but colleagues I’ve talked to on both sides of the aisle think this is a sensible approach.”

On average, the program only has enough money to protect witnesses for four months, Boyle said, while most felony trials take longer than that.

“This would send the message: In Philadelphia, we’re going to be serious and go after those who intimidate, threaten or otherwise go after witnesses in violent crimes,” Boyle said.

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