As reported by KBC, Kenya’s new witness protection agency was officially launched on Friday. The news comes after months of debate over the need for improved witness protection in Kenya and the passing of the Witness Protection Amendment Bill in 2010. Public pressure for better witness protection in Kenya became particularly prevalent in the aftermath of widespread violence following the contested elections in 2007. The new agency means that witness protection will now be managed independently instead of operating as a unit within the Department of Public Prosecution.
Despite this positive step forwards, some are concerned that the new agency will be under-funded – it had requested 1.2 billion Kenyan Shillings to support its operations but was only allocated Sh300 million (equivalent to £2m GBP or $3.3m USD).
The Witness Protection Act aims to provide protection to people who have important information and face potential risk as a result of their cooperation with prosecution and law enforcement agencies. It is hoped it will help to tackle organised crime and corruption in Kenya.
The existence of adequately funded and managed witness protection programmes in Africa is fairly rare, with South Africa being the only other African nation to have a formal programme. If Kenya’s programme is successful maybe other countries will come to realise the benefit of an independent witness protection agency.
Newport News Police Department are apparently making positive changes to improve witness protection in the city. According to the Newport News Daily Press, the police department have introduced a Witness Protection Protocol which puts processes in place to provide protection to witnesses facing intimidation.
The protocol is intended to act as a less extreme local version of the US federal witness protection program which is run by the US Marshals Service. Funding for the protection will come from the police department’s $100,000 confidential funds which also gets used for rewarding confidential informants and undercover drug buys.
This is a good example of a law enforcement agency taking the initiative to try to get over the “no snitching” culture that is so damaging to cooperation with the police. If residents feel that police can act quickly and affectively to protect key witnesses, the fear of providing information will be diminished.
Scotland’s Sunday Mail reported yesterday that the Scottish Witness Protection Unit protected 44 witnesses in 2009/10 – over three times the number witnesses protected in the previous year. This seems to highlight the growing importance of protecting vulnerable witnesses in the fight against organised crime gangs. The Sunday Mail article emphasises the shady nature of witness protection but accepts that the nature of the job requires the SWPU to work in the shadows. Despite this, the UK has some of the most professionally organised and legislated witness protection programmes in the world, serving to allow more witnesses to come forward to support the fight against serious organised crime.
The Bahama Journal reported yesterday that Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade is confident in the Bahamas’ witness protection programme. However, the paper reports three recent cases where witnesses to murder have been targeted by gunmen. Witness protection is a difficult task in any small island community but if law enforcement want witnesses to serious crimes, they must be able to prove their ability to keep those witnesses safe.
Witness protection is a difficult business at the best of times. But when you’re on a small island the task of relocating and protecting a vulnerbale witness is made even harder. New legislation in Bermuda is attempting to overcome this problem by allowing witnesses to be sent to other British overseas territories including the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The Witness Protection Act will be presented for approval this month and will hopefully improve the effectiveness of law enforcement in the territory.
Dr Hume Johnson and Dr Joseph Soeters write have written a two part article for the Jamaica Gleaner which highlights the culture of fear that surrounds witnesses to crime in Jamaica. The article cites recent examples of informers and testifying witnesses being killed for cooperating with police (Linval Thompson in 2005, Leslie Brown in 2006 and Kadian Campbell in 2007). In such a climate it is unsurprising that Jamaican police struggle to get cooperation from witnesses to crime. In the second part of the article, “State weakness and informerphobia“, Johnson and Soeters identify the need for Jamaican police to guarantee anonymity of the provenance of information as well as the introduction of new laws designed to improve public confidence in the legal system.
In the USA, the witness intimdation problem has been termed in some areas as the “Stop Snitching Phenomenon” – a report was written on the subject by the Department of Justice and Police Executive Research Forum. ABM’s response to the Stop Snitching phenomenon report highlights some of the ways in which the issues may be addressed.
Last year the Police Executive Research Forum and U.S. Department of Justice published a report entitled “The Stop Snitching Phenomenon: Breaking the Code of Silence“. The report considers how the Stop Snitching trend has been growing over the last few years and how it has become a very real problem for almost half of the United States’ police departments. It is essential that police forces act to break down this climate of fear and intimidation otherwise the situation will only worsen.
In our response to the report – Tackling the Stop Snitching Phenomenon – we identify the some of the ways in which covert management software can help to alleviate some of the problems surrounding witness protection and internal corruption. By implementing ABM’s software alongside improved management processes, police departments will be aided in their battle against organised criminal gangs.
Protecting witnesses is a complex and challenging task. Two reports from different parts of the world highlight some of the difficulties that abound. The attorney general of the Bahamas and a senior Bahamian police official highlighted the difficulty of operating a witness protection program in a relatively small community. It is difficult to hide and protect someone when there is little space and in a population of under 300,000 people. In Kenya, there are increasing calls for improvements to witness protection as post-election violence continues to escalate.
The issues vary considerably, but a common concern is the need to engage in robust and secure processes to ensure that candidates for witness protection are properly dealt with and subsequent provision of protection is properly managed. IT systems can be a valuable tool in managing witness protection procedure and policy.
A brief report by the broadcaster, RT, highlights the extreme lengths that some governments are going to in order to protect important witnesses. According to the article on the Russian police’s witness protection program has even been known to stage the deaths of witnesses in order to confuse the criminals who are seeking them out.
Witness protection is undoubtedly a high risk area and one that needs careful management. All organisations and agencies managing witness protection programmes must carefully consider the processes and policies that surround them.