In Plain Sight (Al­most)

Catron Courier - - Front Page - by Sue Ling

Many of you have seen the TV se­ries “In Plain Sight.” For the rest of us un­tele­vised, the show de­picts per­sons in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram who are liv­ing in Al­bu­querque, New Mex­ico. Wit Sec, as the show calls it, af­fords se­cu­rity pro­vided by the US Mar­shall Ser­vice for fed­eral wit­nesses. The pro­tected folks range from crim­i­nals who have “turned state’s ev­i­dence” against their fel­low felons to in­no­cent by­s­tanders who are hap­less eye wit­nesses to some crime. They all have rea­son to fear for their safety from forces want­ing to stop their tes­ti­mony in court.

Re­cently a for­merly se­cret govern­ment re­port was re­leased un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act. Much of the ma­te­rial was redacted (see Ex­hibit A). How­ever, foren­sic doc­u­ment ex­perts have man­aged to ob­tain some fas­ci­nat­ing statis­tics. In the United States, there are, as of this writ­ing, 627,862 per­sons in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram. 262,583 have al­ready tes­ti­fied and will re- main in the Pro­gram for life. Most of these peo­ple are lo­cated in 28 ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try.

There are a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of pro­tected wit­nesses (11,162) who are tucked away in New Mex­ico sim­i­lar to the TV show. More to our in­ter­est are the num­ber lo­cated in Ca­tron County. In the last 15 years, over 5,700 wit­nesses have lived in the county. Cur­rently around 1,150 are in res­i­dence ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Some of the

rea­sons given for the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of pro­tected wit­nesses here in Ca­tron County are: the ru­ral area, large dis­tances be­tween res­i­dences, di­verse pop­u­la­tion, tol­er­ance for the un­ortho­dox, gen­eral mind your own busi­ness at­ti­tude, uni­form dress code (the au­thor as­sumes the plaid flan­nel shirts, cow­boy hats, blue jeans and boots and/or cam­ou­flage were con­sid­ered a dress code in the re­port).

How­ever, the ma­jor rea­son for the se­lec­tion of the County was a wel­com­ing and help­ful de­meanor to strangers who want to be part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. There was also a foot­note that Ca­tron County’s lo­ca­tion of 50 miles from nowhere was ideal for the pro­gram.

Al­though it is un­clear whether those in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram are in­cluded in the cen­sus fig­ures, the pub­lished pop­u­la­tion of Ca­tron County is around 3,500.

Given these facts, if you live in Ca­tron County with three per­sons in your house­hold and you your­self are not in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro- gram there is a good chance that one of the other two is… pro­tected (see Ex­hibit B).

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