NEWORLEANS-- Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro gave his state of the criminal justice system address Tuesday night, focusing on a long list of what he considers accomplishments under his tenure, including improved communication with the New Orleans Police Department.
However, one local group now bearing the burden says witness protection is an area needing improvement and better funding in the criminal justice system.
'Folks are not safe in the city of New Orleans, and threats are usually carried out and witnesses are killed,' said Tamara Jackson, executive director with Silence is Violence.
You may remember one of New Orleans' high-profile witness intimidation cases. Curtis Matthews, 61, was shot and killed outside his Uptown daiquiri shop. He was the brother to John Matthews --- a witness in Telly Hankton's murder case --- who was also shot several times but survived.
Jackson said her organization's resources are stretched thin after experiencing a 15 percent increase in the number of victims and witnesses coming to her door asking for help.
'Definitely there needs to be more supportive services for victims and witnesses in Orleans Parish, and many of them are abandoned and left to figure things out on their own,' she said.
Jackson said many of the victims and witnesses her non-profit helps are still facing intimidation in their communities for working with police and prosecutors. Currently, very limited resources exist to support witnesses and victims in Orleans Parish.
On Tuesday night Cannizzaro highlighted the expansion of his Victim/Witness Assistance Unit, which has nearly doubled. According to the district attorney, it has provided support to more than 10 times the number of victims his predecessors assisted.
'While the DA's office possesses neither the resources nor the ability to change someone's identity or move them across the country, the unit has developed several strategies to keep them safe,' Cannizzaro said during his address.
The New Orleans Police Department confirms it relies on the district attorney's office for witness support because it doesn't have resources of its own.
'A believable witness to come forward and take the stand, nothing more important than that,' said state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
On the state level, Leger says a special state witness protection services program already exists. However, funding has dried up and he is working to secure more.
It's more money he hopes will work to better protect witnesses and victims caught in the criminal justice cross fire.
'Whatever we can do to ensure people feel safe and secure in showing up in court and testifying against these violent criminals, we have to continue to do,' Leger said.
Cannizzaro also announced the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit that will work with Innocence Project of New Orleans to carefully monitor convictions. The unit is currently looking to secure private sector and government funding.