Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that the City of Flint is partnering with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton’s office to launch a witness protection initiative.
“We live in a mandate of a community where we have a social society that says don’t tell,” Neeley said. “[A] no snitch rule. And then we also have localized terrorism where we have individuals that are afraid to step up to give information to get violent criminals off the street.”
Neeley said the city is using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to kick off the program, but will also seek funding from foundations and police department revenue from forfeitures and confiscations.
So far, he says the program will cost at least $500,000 for “a couple of years” but did not disclose how much of the ARPA dollars would be used for witness protection. Neeley did add that $500,000 would not sustain the program for the long haul.
The program would relocate witnesses temporarily as Leyton’s office and the Flint Police Department work to prosecute criminals. Leyton’s office will administer the program, giving prosecutors the authority to decide who needs to go into witness protection.
“This is a long time coming,” Leyton said. “This program is needed more than ever so we can get witnesses to come and testify. So we can safeguard them by housing them in places where they won’t be found.” Participants in the program will be temporarily housed at an undisclosed location outside of the city until they testify.
Leyton said when it is determined that witnesses no longer need protection, they will be removed from the program and can return to the Flint area.
“This is a program to house people for a period of time until they testify,” Leyton said. “Once we make the determination that they are in the clear they will be back in the mix.”
Last year, Flint Police Chief Terence Green pleaded with the community to come forward with information about violent crimes to help the police solve cases. Many victims feared retaliation and adhered to a “street code” against “snitching,” Green said.
With the witness protection program, Green said he hopes to show witnesses that the department is committed to protecting their safety and their families.
“I support this 100 percent. This is a long time coming. I truly feel we will solve homicides,” Green said. We will solve violent crime. We will also prevent violent crime. (Because) we believe people will come forward with information that is vital to any type of investigation. This is money, funding well spent.”
During a May 2022 Flint City Council meeting, Green told council members that he was seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds for at least three programs to combat gun violence in the city.
In addition to the witness protection program, Green told the Council that Flint needed a violence interruption program and youth intervention and enrichment programs.
City officials say crime is down by 25 percent in Flint compared to last year.
According to the Flint Police Department’s crime summary comparison from Jan. 1, 2022, to April 17, 2022, there were 367 violent crimes compared to 492 during the same time period in 2021. A 25.41% decrease.
There were 41 nonfatal shootings from Jan. 1, 2022, to May 1, 2022, according to data from the Michigan State Police Department, and a total of 15 homicides during that time period, 14 of which were shootings.
In 2021, there were 77 nonfatal shootings and 21 fatal shootings during that period, according to MSP.
Green told the council that the police department has begun implementing initiatives to combat violent crime, including a “geographically-focused policing initiative” and hiring 29 full-time officers since September 2020, including five who have recently graduated from the police academy.
In March of 2021, the city learned that it would be receiving $94.7 million in ARPA funds as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. The money has specific eligible uses outlined in a 437-page document. Preventing and responding to violence is an approved use of the funds.
Green did not provide details on plans for youth intervention and enrichment programs but said it would be similar to a “youth mentorship program.”
Neeley is set to disclose more plans to Flint City Council at a 5:30 p.m. June 14, 2022 meeting.