Kern County’s Secret Witness program is back in business after the Board of Supervisors guaranteed a minimum of $30,000 for the anonymous tip system, with potentially more funds on the way.
The new infusion of cash will allow Secret Witness to begin offering awards after three years of little activity due to lack of funds.
“Once we actually get the funding, we’re going to start offering rewards,” said Tyson Davis, vice-president of Secret Witness. “I think it’s great. It’s great for the program.”
The supervisors will pay for the donation to Secret Witness through their own discretionary funds — a personal budget of county funds each supervisor is given to spend as they wish.
Diane Byrne, Cheryl Holsonbake and Jane Parent, the mothers of the Bakersfield 3, asked supervisors several weeks ago to donate $30,000 to Secret Witness to keep it alive. Byrne specifically thanked Supervisor Leticia Perez, who was the first supervisor to pledge any money to the program when the mothers first brought the issue to the supervisors’ attention.
“If one is not moved to action by grieving mothers pleading for help in searching for their missing children, while also considering that our deputies are understaffed and underfunded, than we lack not only a connection to the American spirit, we also lack basic humanity,” Perez said in a text.
The mothers want to ensure that any avenue exists to get information to investigators that could solve crimes. Their three children, James Kulstad, Micah Holsonbake and Bailey Parrent-Despot, were victims of unsolved crimes.
Along with Perez, supervisors Mike Maggard and Mick Gleason each designated $10,000 to the program. Supervisor Zack Scrivner was absent and David Couch said he needed to check the status of his discretionary fund before he could commit to a donation figure.
At next Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors are set to finalize the donation. At that time, either Scrivner or Couch could choose to contribute funds to the program.
Secret Witness has $57,700 in its coffers but much of those funds are earmarked for three specific cases; only $1,647 was available for program operations and general rewards, enough to pay the program’s phone bill.
Secret Witness, which provides rewards to informants who call in information on local crimes through a tip line, had stalled in recent years.
It ran into trouble in 2013, when RJ’s Bar and Grill, which had hosted an annual golf tournament to raise money for the program, changed ownership and ceased holding the fundraiser.
Without the tournament, funds dwindled until program administrators could no longer offer rewards for cases that did not have private benefactors.
“It’s sad that it took my son to be killed and then Micah and Bailey to go missing to bring light to this,” Byrne said. “But I’m very grateful and very happy.”
Davis said the Secret Witness Board was in the process of coming up with alternate fundraising methods to keep the program solvent for the foreseeable future.