CHICAGO (CBS) — A group of Chicago ministers paid a visit to the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office on Tuesday, delivering a letter calling for a stronger witness protection program to help people feel safe enough to give police crucial information about crime in their neighborhoods.

Rev. Ira Acree, a longtime pastor in the Austin neighborhood, said many people have told him and other faith leaders they are afraid to come forward with what they know when someone is killed in their neighborhoods.

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“They have told us in confidentiality that they know who the killers are, of most of these crimes; but people are afraid. They feel like the government will abandon them, or they know of people the government has abandoned,” Acree said.

Acree said the real challenge in solving crimes isn’t breaking the code of silence, but actually breaking the code of fear.

Cook County has a victim and witness assistance program in place, but Acree called the current system “an abysmal failure.”

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He said the county needs a more robust witness protection program so people know if they come forward to turn in a killer, they will have the resources they need, including financial assistance if it’s necessary for them to relocate.

Acree was joined by fellow Revs. Cy Fields, Marshall Hatch, Michael Pfleger, and Kenneth Giles; as well as community activist Andrew Holmes, and civil rights attorney Andrew M. Stroth.

“CPD, COPA, and the State’s Attorney’s Office need to develop and implement a comprehensive new strategy and plan to obtain critical information and evidence related to criminal activity. In order to do this, we need a witness protection program in our communities that truly protects key witnesses,” Stroth said.

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In a statement, Foxx’s office said it “works to uphold public safety through the fair and efficient administration of justice.”

“Every day, our dedicated Victim Witness Unit is on the front lines, working directly with those most affected by violence as they navigate the court system on their path to seeking justice.  This unit is funded by allocations in our annual County Budget as well as both state and federal grants.  These resources allow us to offer limited relocation assistance on a case by case basis.

However, the criminal justice system cannot be the only resource for victims. Collaboration with advocates, community-based organizations, government, and other law enforcement agencies is critical to provide the most comprehensive system of services to victims and witnesses.

The safety of those who have been involuntarily engaged in the criminal justice system is paramount to the work of our office. I look forward to working closely with city and county officials to increase essential protections for everyone in Cook County.”

CBS 2 Chicago Staff