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Milwaukee DA’s office receives grant extension for witness protection program

On the day a state grant was to expire, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office learned that an additional $50,000 in funding will be provided for its witness protection program.

According to lead investigator David Budde, the funding, which was secured in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is expected to sustain a summer pilot project through the end of the year. An initial grant of $50,000 funded the program from June 1 – Sept. 30.

The announcement came on the heels of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s plan to provide more than $330,000 in funding for three additional investigator positions and making the program a permanent part of the county budget.

“We met with the county executive a couple of weeks ago and this would be an increase in the office’s base budget and not something we envision will be subject to re-justification each year,” said Budde, who added that the additional grant money could extend into 2009 depending on the fate of the county budget provision.

Walker’s proposal to add three full-time investigators to the department on Jan. 1, 2009 at a cost of $254,000 highlighted his budget plan for the district attorney’s office.

An additional $80,000 will go toward equipment costs and overtime considerations for the witness protection program. Budde pointed out that the department will be responsible for providing administrative staff support.

As indicated in the budget, the new investigator positions will be part of a five-person team that will focus on the department’s witness protection program. If adopted in the final budget plan, the office will have 10 investigators, including Budde.

“We want a total of nine, excluding me, to dedicate to witness protection and public corruption,” said Budde. “With our current staff of six, we’re not able to accomplish both of those missions.”

Budde added that investigators would be assigned as needed to cases, depending on the importance and scope.

While the additions would bolster the department’s witness protection and public corruption programs, there is a high likelihood that as many as 15 assistant district attorney positions could be eliminated next spring.

District Attorney John T. Chisholm previously noted that his office will lose eight positions on April 1, 2009 if federal funding through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant is not restored. Five additional prosecutors within the domestic violence unit could also be let go around the same time if a congressional earmark is not renewed.

Chisholm lamented the future cuts within the office, but praised the present initiative of Walker to try and invest county dollars in expanding his investigative unit.

“It’s not anything we’re overly exuberant about because it’s going to be lot of hard work ahead of us,” said Chisholm in an earlier interview. “From my perspective, we identified a problem and came up with game plan.”

Budde conceded that prosecutor losses would be difficult to cope with, but that is an issue that will be addressed on the state level.

“You are talking about two different pots of money, as the county does not fund prosecutor positions, but there is always a huge battle when it comes to cuts,” said Budde.

The Milwaukee County Board will hold a public hearing to discuss Walker’s entire budget proposal on Nov. 3. One week later, the board is expected to adopt an amended version on Nov. 10.

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