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.
As reported by KTVU, Caramad Conley was convicted in 1994 of two counts of first-degree murder and 11 counts of attempted murder for a 1989 drive-by shooting in San Francisco. Last week a superior court judge ruled to overturn the murder conviction after she found that San Francisco police witheld the fact that the prosecution’s key witness, Daniel Polk, was paid thousands of dollars in exchange for his testimony and that the witness was allowed by homicide inspector Earl Sanders to testify under oath that he was no longer in the witness protection program which he was receiving cash and other benefits from. Polk died in 2007. Conley has already served 16 years in prison.
Such cases illustrate the need to maintain strong management oversight of the use of confidential informants. Let’s hope that San Francisco police have improved their practices since then…
Bangladesh’s Daily Star reports today that at least 60 percent of cases in Bangladesh’s court system have problems with witness intimidation or fear according to public prosecutors in Dhaka. This is leading to the delay, abandonment or failure of criminal cases as well as a long backlog of unsolved crimes. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said, “We want to formulate a law to ensure witness protection, and have already asked the ministry to examine everything relevant.”
It sounds like the Law Minister has the right idea. Without robust witness protection laws, it is unlikely that significant improvements to the successful prosecution of criminal offenders will occur.
According to Newsroom Panama, a confidential informant for the US DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) who was sent to Panama whilst in the agency’s witness protection program was killed, along with his son and wife, in 2007 by William “Wild Bill” Holbert. The informant, known as Mike Brown, was unlucky enough to have crossed paths with Holbert who was arrested in Panama last week under suspicion of a series of murder charges.
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.
Another case of mismanagement of witness protection funds emerged this week after a vetern Los Angeles police detective pleaded not guilty to embezzling thousands of dollars which was intended for the protection and relocation of witnesses in Los Angeles.
Understandably, there is a high degree of secrecy surrounding the allocation of funds for witness protection, but this is no excuse for such oversights. Police departments need to make sure they have robust systems in place to ensure accountability and effective management of police funds.
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.