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Buffalo clergy pledge to raise money for witness protection

A coalition of Buffalo church leaders want to raise money to supplement witness protection services offered to people who come forward with information about crimes committed in the City of Buffalo.

The Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York met with city leaders and law enforcement Wednesday to discuss ways to address the violence after a summer in which a grandmother and her toddler grandson were killed and a mother was gunned down in the middle of the day in front of her three young children.

"There is an element of the city that does not believe we are the City of Good Neighbors," said Rev. William Gillison, the pastor at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on East Delavan Avenue. "Not only are we the City of Good Neighbors, we are a city that is unified in making not only that true, but going far beyond the expectations of many other cities that will look upon (us) for the solutions we'll bring out."

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said his office already offers witness protection in certain cases but he knows that many people are reluctant to give information to law enforcement.

"There's a concern of members of the community who have information and are afraid to come forward," Flynn said.

Flynn has access to a "pool of money" from the state to relocate witnesses, either to a hotel temporarily or even a new residence, he said. U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy said his office also provides witness protection in federal cases.

Flynn said his office has relocated three witnesses in the past two months. In one case, the DA covered the costs for a witness to move to a new apartment, paying about $2,000 for a security deposit and first month's rent.

Flynn welcomed the extra funding and also the support of the clergy.

Mayor Byron Brown also pointed to the city's new online tip form, which allows people to anonymously offer information online about crimes at bpdny.org/tips. The police will also continue to operate a confidential tip line at 847-2255.

The Clergy Coalition invited anyone who would like to make a donation for witness services to send checks to Concerned Clergy Coalition of WNY, c/o Mt. Olive Baptist Church, 701 E. Delavan Ave., Buffalo, NY 14215.

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