The Witness Protection Act, which passed the General Assembly in July and increases protective measures for witnesses of gang related crimes, has yet to go into effect and will not be implemented until it secures funding for the creation of the Gang Crime Witness Protection Program, said 8th District State Rep. LaShawn Ford.
The law, House Bill 1139, was sponsored by State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (7th) and State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (5th). It passed in the House with a unanimous 117 yea votes.
In a press statement Sen. Van Pelt said, “We have to show people that the law is stronger than street gangs. [This bill] will help make our schools safer by protecting those who have the courage to stand up to gang violence.”
Part of the reason for the widespread support for the legislation was the fact that it was an unfunded mandate which allowed elected officials not to have to commit to a dollar figure on the legislation, Ford said.
In fact, no amount has yet been calculated.
“I think that if the law came with a dollar amount attached it might have drawn more resistance because of the budget problems the state is facing,” said Ford who voted for the law.
“But, without a funding mandate on the law, it allowed the House to show support without the possibility of political backlash,” Ford said.
Nevertheless, Ford believes that the law will encourage more residents fearful of reporting crimes to come forward.
“I think the House agreed with the idea that this law could make witnesses of gang-related crime more willing to testify in the future,” Ford added.
“Bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement will hopefully be the result after the law is implemented.”
After funds are secured, the program will be implemented by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
A spokesperson for the agency preferred not to comment about how the plan would be employed until its fundraising initiatives were completed.
However, the purpose of the program is to provide a channel for witnesses and their families to be temporarily relocated while they are actively involved in criminal cases.