Witness-assistance program given a boost

Witnesses to violent or gang-related crime once intimidated by potential repercussions for snitching will see additional support services from The City if they do indeed agree to testify.

District Attorney Kamala Harris, police Chief Heather Fong and other Bay Area law enforcement officials introduced the new changes to the state’s relocation and support program Thursday.

Witnesses and their families will have assistance settling in new communities and finding doctors, schools, job and educational opportunities and other services if they testify.

The services are also now available to the witnesses up to 180 days after a case closes. Previously, witnesses were in the program up to 90 days.

The changes were made possible by Senate Bill 594, which more than doubles current funding to $6.75 million to give witnesses better and longer-term services when they move to a new community.

Harris referred to the 2006 murder of Terrell Rollins as the inspiration for her to push the passage of legislation, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law last week.

Rollins was shot to death after he had agreed to testify against Daniel Dennard, who allegedly shot and killed another man in 2005. Rollins had gone into the district attorney’s witness protection program, but he returned to The City and was killed.

Dennard was in jail when Rollins died but went free because no one could testify against him. San Francisco police recently arrested Dennard on an armed robbery and carjacking charges.

The City is seeing one of its most violent years in a decade with 88 homicides.

“In San Francisco, as it is in other jurisdictions, it’s unfortunately very difficult” to get witnesses to come forward because of intimidation tactics by gangs and other groups, Fong said.

“It’s not unusual for someone to say, ‘Well that’s not enough [reward] money? What about the rest of my life?’” she said.

Harris said the relocation and assistance program — formerly the witness protection program — has 29 people in it, the “highest number today than we have had in years,” she said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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