As the country continues to grapple with the disturbing spike in crime, the oft-heard refrain from the country’s top officials and law enforcers is a call to the public to support crime-fighting efforts by telling what they know.
In his most recent appeal, Attorney General Dale Marshall said: “ The police are not magicians, they need evidence, and they need witnesses to come forward in order to present a proper case to prosecutors so that prosecutors can present a proper case to the judges so that justice can be dispensed.
“Every single thing about this is connected and what I will ask for in the coming year  is that our communities realize that they have a vested interest in protecting our social fabric and our social environment and they need to support us in every way.”
Hardly can we fault such a call. In a small society like ours, most people see things, hear stories and perhaps even know those engaged in questionable activities. We have a duty to report if only to save a life or to prevent the horror of some other criminal act.
Witnesses play a crucial role in helping the police to apprehend offenders and solve crimes. While tangible physical evidence is important, a reliable eyewitness is just as helpful in a criminal trial.
When witnesses to crimes refuse to tell police what they see and hear, everybody loses – except criminals. The police can’t apprehend perpetrators; victims won’t get the justice they deserve and the lawless get away with their ill-conceived deeds.
But equally, we acknowledge that in our small society, citizens will choose to remain silent to protect themselves and their families.
Many people may feel anxious about testifying in court because they fear how their lives may be affected. Witnesses who opt to speak up feel they expose themselves and their families to threats and retaliation from criminals.
As a result, many may be reluctant to cooperate with police, denying they have information.
Authorities who understand that they need the cooperation of the public to uncover suspects, build strong cases and win convictions should be prepared to consider the establishment of a witness protection programme.
It’s an idea that has already received support from the top brass in the Royal Barbados Police Force.
Deputy Commissioner Oral Williams is on record as saying that since more people have been providing tips and information to police there is a need for a security net for witnesses.
Williams said: “I have been speaking to some detectives who are saying that increasingly people are willing to come and tell you, ‘I have seen..’, ‘I have heard…’, but when it comes to jotting it on paper and going to court they are reluctant to do that.”
“We need not only [for] witnesses but all the players in the criminal justice system.”
No less than Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith has not only endorsed the idea but has gone even further to suggest there should be a regional witness protection programme.
It would be well worth the effort to have such a scheme in place that could protect witnesses from threat, intimidation and undue influence and thus strengthen the justice system.
Our country can draw on the best practices of witness protection programmes worldwide which provide a range of protections including providing police escorts to courtrooms, the implementation of technology to avoid depositions in open court, in-camera proceedings, restrictions on the identification of witnesses and temporary safehouses among others.
If we see something we should say something. But if the authorities are serious about bringing to book the Mr Big behind drug-trafficking, long-running, racketeering and death-dealing that employs minions and fuels crime, witness protection programmes may offer justice that is not only being done but seen to be done
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