Prosecutors around the U.S. say tight budgets are hamstringing their ability to keep witnesses safe at a time when intimidation on the streets appears to be surging, particularly in gang cases, the Associated Press reports. “The most basic thing we should be able to do is assure them they’ll be safe while their case is proceeding,” Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said. Florida’s witness protection efforts took a hit after a budget shortfall forced lawmakers in 2007 to reduce $500,000 originally appropriated to $100,000. Atlanta prosecutors get no state help for witness protection, instead scraping by with money from forfeitures. The money is so inadequate that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard plea-bargains some cases because he can’t afford to protect witnesses in long trials.
In Chicago, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office got some state dollars in 2003 and 2004 for witness relocation and protection, but since then has been running its program out of its own budget. In Philadelphia, spending by the district attorney’s office on relocating witnesses rose from $413,290 in 2004 to $1 million in 2007. District Attorney Lynne Abraham said that is not enough. Prosecutors say witness intimidation is surging. “Stop Snitching” T-shirts have been sold in cities around the country. A Web site titled “Who’s a Rat?” offers a national database of informants. Many jurisdictions do not keep figures on cases dismissed because of intimidation or the number of witnesses hurt or killed. Prosecutors tell stories of how witness intimidation has damaged cases.