South KC Perspective
Witness Protection Funded
By John Sharp
Funding for a long overdue pretrial witness protection program in Missouri is likely to be passed in the next few days by this year’s second special session of the Missouri General Assembly.
The House Budget Committee voted 27-0 November 9 to approve a $1.28 billion supplemental appropriations bill that included $2 million to fund the program. The full House approved the bill containing the witness protection funding November 10 by an announced vote of 133-4, and the Missouri Senate is expected to debate the bill tomorrow, December 2nd. If the Senate amends it, it will have to go back to the House for further consideration.
The bill to create a pretrial witness protection fund administered by the Missouri Department of Public Safety was passed in September by this year’s first special session of the legislature and signed into law the same month by Governor Mike Parson. The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Representative Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, and co-sponsored by my son, Representative Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City.
It passed the Missouri House 147-3 and the Senate 29-0.
Law enforcement agencies will need to apply for funding from the Department for specific criminal cases and outline projected costs and how they intend to protect witnesses, victims and their immediate families whenever their testimony in criminal trials would jeopardize their lives.
The Department has been planning how to administer the witness protection program since the legislation creating the program was signed into law in September, and is expected to be able to roll out the program quickly once funding is approved.
This urgently needed program should significantly increase the number of witnesses willing to testify so the relatively small number of persistent violent offenders who commit many of our city’s most violent crimes can be successfully prosecuted and incarcerated before they can harm more victims.
As of December 1, KCMO already had recorded 167 homicides this year, a record number for any year in our city’s history. The final number for the year unfortunately is projected to far exceed the previous record of 151 homicides set in 2017 and 2019.