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Floor Speeches

Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2009

Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, this is truly bizarre. We're talking about life-and-death issues--and I know technically you can speak about anything. But we're talking about life-and-death issues. We have seen witnesses disappear, go underground so that law enforcement cannot protect us. Yet the gentleman, my good friend from Georgia, gets up and talks about something which has absolutely nothing to do with what we're talking about. But I guess that's par for the course.

So I thank the ranking member. I thank the chairman. I thank Mr. Cummings for getting this legislation. And Mr. Cummings has done us all a great favor. Nothing is going to help law enforcement more than our trying to help with the protection of the witnesses out there who view these crimes.

Criminal street gangs have been a major concern all across this country and in New Jersey; and truly, law enforcement cannot do its job without this legislation. Mr. Speaker, I don't believe that there is a more significant thing that we can do in reversing the losing battle that we face at this point and attacking street crime and ending modern-day organized crime on the streets. You need viable witnesses who are not left to chance and risk and will not be frightened or intimidated.

In a 2007 survey conducted in New Jersey by the State police, respondents in 4 out of every 10 New Jersey municipalities--that's 43 percent--reported the presence of street gangs in their jurisdiction during the previous 12 months, not only in cities but in suburban communities. As a former mayor, I know how tough it is for our cities and communities to deal with gang problems all across the United States of America. Gang members are involved in violent and drug-related crimes and recruit young folks in our public schools. Catching and punishing the perpetrators of these crimes is oftentimes difficult, if not impossible. Gangs are so pervasive in many communities that the threat of violent reprisal against members of a community or gang members who want to leave severely hinders law enforcement investigations.

H.R. 1741 would provide a crucial missing link that prevents many of these crimes from being solved in the first place. This legislation will allow the Justice Department to begin offering grants to local communities to implement local witness protection programs. What have we come to? When we talk about witness protection programs, we think we're talking about something 20 years ago, 40 years ago. We're talking about now. We're talking about in our own neighborhoods. We're talking about in our own families. That's what we're talking about. Ensuring witness safety, short- and long-term relocation, and financial and housing assistance are essential to the effective investigation and prosecution of gang-related crimes, Mr. Speaker. The Federal Government must reach out to assist local police departments in keeping our communities and our schools safe. This bill will provide a critical service to many needy communities. I thank those folks who brought it to the floor, particularly Mr. Cummings, my good friend from Maryland. I'm glad we could stay, most of us, on the topic at hand.


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