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The Advocate | With Baton Rouge Violent Crime on Rise, Officials Hope New Grant Helps Combat Witness Intimidation

(01/07/2018) With violent crime on the rise in Baton Rouge, officials say the need has grown for a more comprehensive approach to combating witness intimidation — a problem that can leave innocent people vulnerable to unfair retaliation and threatens to undercut the criminal justice system by making some cases nearly impossible to prosecute. Local officials want to ramp up efforts to address the problem, hoping that eventually more people will feel comfortable cooperating with authorities.

A new focus While officials in the DA's office say they have long been concerned about witness intimidation, they believe a new federal grant will help them improve their focus on the problem.

Three organizations — AEquitas, the Justice Management Initiative and the International Association of Chiefs of Police — will use almost $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to provide guidance and evaluate practices in three cities over the next two years. Baton Rouge, Boston and Baltimore received the awards.

Local agencies — including the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and LSU researchers — will help develop and implement recommended strategies. Data collected throughout the duration of the grant will hopefully provide insight into effective strategies that could be used across the country, said John Wilkinson, an attorney advisor for AEquitas.

Wilkinson said some possible strategies could include better educating people about witness intimidation, helping victims take precautions and protect themselves without necessarily relocating away from their homes, prosecuting cases even when witnesses refuse to cooperate, and training law enforcement and courthouse staff on how to recognize and respond to intimidation when it does occur.

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