News and Updates Results

  • Community Prosecution Strategies: Three Examples

     

    One of the hallmarks of community prosecution programs is the search for new solutions to neighborhood problems. Here are three examples of community prosecution programs in action, excerpted from "Prosecution in the Community: A Study of Emergent Strategies," by Catherine M. Coles and George L. Kelling, from September 1998:

    Several types of problem-solving activities are currently being led by prosecutors: special programs or projects created to address a particular crime problem city-wide; special programs that target crime and public safety conditions generally, in one neighborhood; and ongoing problem-solving in community prosecution units and other special units in prosecutors' offices. Prosecutors also participate in efforts that are led by police, mayors, and other officials.

    We describe here two recent problem-solving projects that we have observed, and one example of how a prosecutor identified a problem that would lead to more formal problem-solving.

    Kansas City: Targeting Crime in a Neighborhood—the Paseo Corridor Drug and Crime-Free Community Partnership
    In June of 1998, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Best Practice award in the category of neighborhood transformation went to COMBAT [an anti-drug initiative largely controlled by the prosecutor, Claire McCaskill, and funded by a sales tax] for the Paseo Corridor Project. Formed in February 1997 under the leadership of the County Prosecutor, the partnership represented more than 60 property owners, community and neighborhood organizations, local, state, and federal officials (including the mayor's office, City Council and city departments, city, state and federal prosecutors, Kansas City Police Department, and Housing and Urban Development, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms), and resident groups. Its goal was to clean up a 15-block area of Kansas City—once a beautiful boulevard, but more recently one of the worst crime areas in the city. The area has a concentration of assisted housing, with extensive drug and criminal activity. Although Kristen Rosselli, director of planning for COMBAT in the county prosecutor's office, organized the partnership and coordinated its work (also participating were the head of the Drug Abatement Response Team from the [prosecutor's] office), six committees were established to carry out particular functions: partnership agreement/monitoring, lease/rules and regulations, law enforcement, faith initiative, resident empowerment, and economic development. In a signed agreement, participants established a mission, which was to improve the quality of life for residents, business owners, and employees in the corridor, and a coordinated three-phase strategy. Phase 1 would focus on attaining safety, security and economic stability; Phase 2 on lifestyle enrichment and self-sufficiency; and Phase 3 on community development through economic empowerment.

    After the first year, the crime rate in the corridor had been reduced by 50 percent, and residents reported that they felt safer. A uniform lease agreement, rules, and regulations had been adopted by all multifamily properties. A nearby Weed-and-Seed area was expanded to include the corridor, and over 25 abandoned buildings, sites of drug activity, had been demolished. A neighborhood liquor store began carrying more groceries and changed its name to a market. The Kansas City Police Department was denying signature bonds for incidents in the area, and the courts agreed to stiffer conditions of probation for prostitution-related crimes. Property owners and managers helped to change the Missouri Landlord/Tenant Law to expedite evictions for drug-related crimes in rental housing, and a landlord-training program was set up to teach landlords and property owners ways of reducing drug and criminal activity in rental housing. Finally, according to Rosselli, "lines have blurred between public housing residents, those living in privately-owned Section 8 housing, and other inhabitants of this area. Residents have begun looking at each other as neighbors and community partners."

    Indianapolis: A Citywide Problem—Safe Parks Initiative
    In June 1996, Prosecutor [Scott] Newman, along with Mayor Steve Goldsmith, announced the Safe Parks Partnership, a program to curb criminal activity, especially drug dealing, public indecency, vandalism, and prostitution (mostly misdemeanors), in city parks in order to make them a "safe haven for kids and families." Newman led the planning for the project, which took place over the course of several months, and included the involvement of Street Level Advocates [also called community prosecutors] and municipal prosecutors from his office, Indianapolis Park Rangers, the Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department, Indianapolis Greenways, the Corporation Counsel, and the Public Defender's Office. Once in operation, neighborhood groups and volunteers would also become involved. The law enforcement components of the initiative would be carried out through IPD [Indianapolis Police Department] and Ranger bike patrols, undercover operations in secluded park areas, and occasional curfew sweeps for late-night violence and gang activity.

    The Prosecutor's Office devised special plea policies for dealing with offenders: no pre-trial diversion would be offered for offenses committed on park property; mandatory community work service for acts of vandalism, graffiti and criminal mischief would be performed in the parks; offenders convicted would be banned from all parks for one year, and enhanced penalties would be applied for drug dealers and drug offenses. Cases involving public intoxication were to be filed. Plans were also made for citizen volunteers to be trained, and then under the supervision of Park Rangers, to begin patrolling nature trails with two-way radios, looking for violators. It was hoped that additional efforts would be taken by neighbors of the parks to increase their presence, and eventually push out "negative elements."

    Boston: Identifying a Problem—Juveniles in a MBTA [Subway] Station
    During the spring of 1997, large groups of high school age youth (up to 500 or more) were congregating after school in the Forest Hills MBTA (subway) station, near English High School. Secretaries from the Prosecutor's Office were talking about it—they were alarmed because of the rowdiness, and fights that sometimes broke out in the station, but could not avoid the area because they took the train home from work. The situation seemed more than what MBTA Police could handle, and Boston Police were called in. When Marcy Cass, director of community prosecution and chief of the District Courts, heard about it, she decided to investigate before taking part in a plan to turn the youth out and arrest offenders. She sent one of the PIPS (Prosecutors in Police Stations) prosecutors she supervised out to take a look—he talked with police, probation officials, street workers, and some of the kids themselves, and stumbled onto a surprising explanation. Kids were gathering in the "T" station, coming from a number of schools, because it was a safe place: there were too many police around for anyone to risk taking a weapon in, and so any fights that broke out would be "clean." A new project was born—the Forest Hills Safety Project—bringing together city and municipal police, prosecutors, street workers, probation officers, and school principals and police. Prosecutors began working on a committee formed to search for solutions: the goal would be to devise a plan—short of arresting and prosecuting the juveniles—for addressing the problem of how to provide a safe environment for the youth, while reclaiming the station for "T" passengers who had become afraid to use it.

    Several types of problem-solving activities are currently being led by prosecutors: special programs or projects created to address a particular crime problem city-wide; special programs that target crime and public safety conditions generally, in one neighborhood; and ongoing problem-solving in community prosecution units and other special units in prosecutors' offices. Prosecutors also participate in efforts that are led by police, mayors, and other officials.

    We describe here two recent problem-solving projects that we have observed, and one example of how a prosecutor identified a problem that would lead to more formal problem-solving.

    Kansas City: Targeting Crime in a Neighborhood—the Paseo Corridor Drug and Crime-Free Community Partnership
    In June of 1998, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Best Practice award in the category of neighborhood transformation went to COMBAT [an anti-drug initiative largely controlled by the prosecutor, Claire McCaskill, and funded by a sales tax] for the Paseo Corridor Project. Formed in February 1997 under the leadership of the County Prosecutor, the partnership represented more than 60 property owners, community and neighborhood organizations, local, state, and federal officials (including the mayor's office, City Council and city departments, city, state and federal prosecutors, Kansas City Police Department, and Housing and Urban Development, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms), and resident groups. Its goal was to clean up a 15-block area of Kansas City—once a beautiful boulevard, but more recently one of the worst crime areas in the city. The area has a concentration of assisted housing, with extensive drug and criminal activity. Although Kristen Rosselli, director of planning for COMBAT in the county prosecutor's office, organized the partnership and coordinated its work (also participating were the head of the Drug Abatement Response Team from the [prosecutor's] office), six committees were established to carry out particular functions: partnership agreement/monitoring, lease/rules and regulations, law enforcement, faith initiative, resident empowerment, and economic development. In a signed agreement, participants established a mission, which was to improve the quality of life for residents, business owners, and employees in the corridor, and a coordinated three-phase strategy. Phase 1 would focus on attaining safety, security and economic stability; Phase 2 on lifestyle enrichment and self-sufficiency; and Phase 3 on community development through economic empowerment.

    After the first year, the crime rate in the corridor had been reduced by 50 percent, and residents reported that they felt safer. A uniform lease agreement, rules, and regulations had been adopted by all multifamily properties. A nearby Weed-and-Seed area was expanded to include the corridor, and over 25 abandoned buildings, sites of drug activity, had been demolished. A neighborhood liquor store began carrying more groceries and changed its name to a market. The Kansas City Police Department was denying signature bonds for incidents in the area, and the courts agreed to stiffer conditions of probation for prostitution-related crimes. Property owners and managers helped to change the Missouri Landlord/Tenant Law to expedite evictions for drug-related crimes in rental housing, and a landlord-training program was set up to teach landlords and property owners ways of reducing drug and criminal activity in rental housing. Finally, according to Rosselli, "lines have blurred between public housing residents, those living in privately-owned Section 8 housing, and other inhabitants of this area. Residents have begun looking at each other as neighbors and community partners."

    Indianapolis: A Citywide Problem—Safe Parks Initiative
    In June 1996, Prosecutor [Scott] Newman, along with Mayor Steve Goldsmith, announced the Safe Parks Partnership, a program to curb criminal activity, especially drug dealing, public indecency, vandalism, and prostitution (mostly misdemeanors), in city parks in order to make them a "safe haven for kids and families." Newman led the planning for the project, which took place over the course of several months, and included the involvement of Street Level Advocates [also called community prosecutors] and municipal prosecutors from his office, Indianapolis Park Rangers, the Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department, Indianapolis Greenways, the Corporation Counsel, and the Public Defender's Office. Once in operation, neighborhood groups and volunteers would also become involved. The law enforcement components of the initiative would be carried out through IPD [Indianapolis Police Department] and Ranger bike patrols, undercover operations in secluded park areas, and occasional curfew sweeps for late-night violence and gang activity.

    The Prosecutor's Office devised special plea policies for dealing with offenders: no pre-trial diversion would be offered for offenses committed on park property; mandatory community work service for acts of vandalism, graffiti and criminal mischief would be performed in the parks; offenders convicted would be banned from all parks for one year, and enhanced penalties would be applied for drug dealers and drug offenses. Cases involving public intoxication were to be filed. Plans were also made for citizen volunteers to be trained, and then under the supervision of Park Rangers, to begin patrolling nature trails with two-way radios, looking for violators. It was hoped that additional efforts would be taken by neighbors of the parks to increase their presence, and eventually push out "negative elements."

    Boston: Identifying a Problem—Juveniles in a MBTA [Subway] Station
    During the spring of 1997, large groups of high school age youth (up to 500 or more) were congregating after school in the Forest Hills MBTA (subway) station, near English High School. Secretaries from the Prosecutor's Office were talking about it—they were alarmed because of the rowdiness, and fights that sometimes broke out in the station, but could not avoid the area because they took the train home from work. The situation seemed more than what MBTA Police could handle, and Boston Police were called in. When Marcy Cass, director of community prosecution and chief of the District Courts, heard about it, she decided to investigate before taking part in a plan to turn the youth out and arrest offenders. She sent one of the PIPS (Prosecutors in Police Stations) prosecutors she supervised out to take a look—he talked with police, probation officials, street workers, and some of the kids themselves, and stumbled onto a surprising explanation. Kids were gathering in the "T" station, coming from a number of schools, because it was a safe place: there were too many police around for anyone to risk taking a weapon in, and so any fights that broke out would be "clean." A new project was born—the Forest Hills Safety Project—bringing together city and municipal police, prosecutors, street workers, probation officers, and school principals and police. Prosecutors began working on a committee formed to search for solutions: the goal would be to devise a plan—short of arresting and prosecuting the juveniles—for addressing the problem of how to provide a safe environment for the youth, while reclaiming the station for "T" passengers who had become afraid to use it.

  • Denver’s Community Justice Councils

    Since launching its community prosecution program in 1996, the Denver District Attorney’s Office has been able to sustain a far-reaching program on a relatively tight budget. The key has been to leverage scarce resources both in and outside the office. Probably the most important way that the office has leveraged resources is by encouraging the community to play an active leadership role. The Denver District Attorney’s Office has developed a number of ways to nurture and sustain community involvement: through community justice councils, which bring stakeholders together to set priorities and develop new problem-solving strategies; through community accountability boards, which use community volunteers to determine restorative sanctions for offending youth; and through a community court, which has worked closely with local stakeholders in shaping its mission and programs.

    One of the Denver D.A.’s Community Justice Unit’s first initiatives was establishing community justice councils. Interestingly, the councils have evolved over time, demonstrating how important it is for community prosecutors to be flexible and adapt to the needs of different neighborhoods.

    The first justice councils were organized in the Denver neighborhoods of Globeville and Capitol Hill by former Community Prosecution Division Director Susan Motika, whom Ritter hired in 1997. Motika’s assignment, as she describes it, was to “develop a constructive, proactive relationship with community residents to help them identify crime and quality of life problems and develop strategies for addressing them.” Motika, a Denver native, brought a diverse background to the work—she had been at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, working on elder protection litigation, juvenile justice, and victims’ rights issues. And before law school, she had worked as a community organizer.

    From the beginning, Motika met whomever she could. “What I did was meet as many key neighborhood stakeholders as possible. I also met with the neighborhood police officers and got a history of the strategies and approaches that have been used—what’s been effective for them and what hasn’t been effective.”

    Motika sought to build partnerships with local organizations, but found that it wasn’t always possible. While some community organizations were strong and democratic others were fledgling or less representative of a cross-section of the neighborhood. As an alternative, she came up with an idea to create an entirely new committee representing a broad range of stakeholders—residents, business leaders, community center directors, faith leaders, school teachers, community police officers, prosecutors and elected city and state representatives. “I had done community organizing and been in law enforcement work. I’d been in both worlds. It made sense to me to bring all the people together,” Motika said. Since the first committees in Globeville and Capitol Hill, similar committees—which came to be known as community justice councils—were organized in several other Denver neighborhoods.

    Each council has 20 to 35 members who are chosen by community prosecutors through in depth interviews. “We ask people a series of open ended questions about problems in the neighborhood, what approaches have been helpful in the neighborhood, what their role has been, what their hopes and dreams for the neighborhood are,” Motika says. “We’re looking at selecting people with a common vision for neighborhood safety. This is not a popularity contest where the most popular or powerful person wins. People are chosen for their belief in working toward a safe and unified neighborhood.”

    Over time, the Community Justice Unit’s use of community justice councils has evolved. While they were originally envisioned as an essential partner to any successful community prosecution effort, the unit has come to see them as useful in only certain neighborhoods, particularly those that lack strong community infrastructure. In neighborhoods with strong local organizations, prosecutors have found that creating a council is redundant.

    “In some neighborhoods it may make sense for the prosecutor to create an opportunity for people with widely divergent views and an interest in public safety to come together,” Motika said. “But where you’ve got a strong resident organization, you want to try and complement them and support them, not say ‘Your organization is no good, government is going to do its version instead,’” Motika said.

    “The prosecutor could spend time creating community justice councils, but that’s not always a fertile use of his or her time,” Motika said. Or, a council may be useful for a few years until another resident organization becomes more vibrant, at which time the prosecutor’s office might disband the justice council in favor of the home-grown group, Motika said.

    Ultimately, prosecutors’ experience with justice councils reinforced two lessons:  first, that the prosecutor’s office can sometimes be just as effective—perhaps even more so—leveraging existing resources rather than creating new community resources from scratch; and second, that different communities require different approaches—a single cookie-cutter model won’t do the trick.
     
    Motika feels it’s vital to include young people on the community justice councils—and in any community prosecution initiative. “That’s extremely important because adults in many distressed neighborhoods are complaining about juvenile crime. Young people should be part of shaping the plan for making a safe neighborhood and not merely talked about as ‘you kids’ and ‘those people.’ ”

  • Denver’s “Dots” Program

    Regardless of which groups the prosecutor’s office partners with, it helps to have tools for identifying local priorities and concerns. The Denver District Attorney’s Office Community Justice Unit has developed just such a tool, which it calls the “dots exercise.”

    This is how the dots exercise works: Before a meeting, the community prosecution staff meets individually with dozens of people who live and work in the neighborhood and asks them to talk about local concerns. Based on information gathered through these individual conversations, the community prosecutor creates large posters listing all the issues raised by the community members. Room is left on the charts so that additional issues can be added during the meeting. 

    After a brief introduction to the exercise, participants review the problems listed on the charts and discuss possible additions. Everyone at the meeting then receives an unlimited number of green dots and two red dots. Council members place a green dot next to any issue they feel is a neighborhood problem. They then place their two red dots next to the issues they feel are the most important. Participants are allowed to place both their red dots on a single issue. 

    The number of red dots next to each issue gives the group a concrete measure of which issues are of greatest collective concern. The green dots help ensure that issues of lower priority are also noted and not pushed aside entirely. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the community justice council used the dots exercise to identify drug sales and crimes connected to alcohol abuse as the top crime issues. The dots exercise isn’t simply about tallying up the numbers and then focusing on the top concerns, cautions Tom Knorr, a member of the Capitol Hill Community Justice Council. “Counting red dots and green dots is, in a sense, looking for a majority, but you’re also looking for what we can all live with. You don’t just say, ‘These are the winners; too bad losers.’  You have to fashion it in a way that respects everyone,” he says.

    “You want to have discussions about how to prioritize. ‘This got the most red dots, how do you feel about that?’ I think when neighbors can hear neighbors talking about a particular issue, you try to have that discussion help people see that this is the place to focus first. It isn’t like there’s an announcement that one issue is the winner.”

  • Lessons from the D.C. Experience

    The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has learned some important lessons from its long involvement (the program began in 1996) with community prosecution. Here are three highlights.

    To get better ‘buy-in,’ start teaching staff about community prosecution early in their careers. 
    Kathleen O’Connor not only heads up the office’s community prosecution effort, but also the intake and grand jury sections, where new prosecutors begin their rotation. This allows her to start right at the beginning, educating new hires about the value of community prosecution as soon as they walk in the door.

    “I have these junior-level prosecutors in my hot little hands for nine months," said O'Connor, "which allows me to show them the ropes and help them think outside the box. They see community prosecution as an integral part of our office from the beginning.” 

    One sign that community prosecution has become mainstreamed is that more prosecutors are expressing an interest in joining O’Connor’s elite 10-member team. “We have a professional development office that keeps track of people’s wishes and desires, and over the past year and a half there have been many more people who are adding to their wish list that they want to be a community prosecutor,” O’Connor said.

    Know your limits—and the limits of line prosecutors.
    Several years ago, all prosecutors—from a new hire prosecuting misdemeanors to a seasoned veteran prosecuting international espionage cases—were required to attend community meetings or otherwise involve themselves with the D.C. community (like speaking at schools or volunteering with local organizations). This sweeping policy was born out of a conviction that community engagement at all levels was essential to foster greater confidence in the prosecutor’s office and improve the office’s relationship with the community. Whether or not a prosecutor was involved in community activities affected “raises, promotions, everything,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney DeMaurice F. Smith, who oversaw the team that developed the office-wide community prosecution program.

    But the requirement eventually proved unworkable.  Even though prosecutors were being offered time off for the hours spent at community meetings, for many there weren’t enough hours in the day. “The average assistant works 10 to 14 hours a day,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Ragsdale, chief of the Homicide/Major Crimes Section. “To ask them to then go out into the community after working those hours [was] a hardship.”

    When former U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. took over, attending community meetings was no longer mandatory. “For some prosecutors, it’s simply not their forte,” Howard said. “One thing I really want is the intelligence out of the community meeting, and we want prosecutors who want to fill that role. What’s the point of being at a community meeting when you’re mad and upset because you’re required to be there? We make sure our prosecutors know when the meetings are, but nobody is made to go. As a result, I think we get better attendance from our assistant U.S. attorneys and they’re there for the right reasons.”

    Strong support from top management is required to carry out a community prosecution program as ambitious as D.C.’s.
    Community prosecution has enjoyed strong support from the last three U.S. attorneys in D.C., although when Howard came aboard he had to be convinced that it made sense. “I came in here needing to be convinced it was a good way to expend our resources,” Howard said. And what convinced him it was worth the investment?  “I saw it in action. Like the old cliché, the proof is in the pudding. I found it made us more effective as prosecutors,” he said.

    Because the philosophy enjoys not only Howard’s support but the support of Cliff Keenan, the chief of the Superior Court Division, O’Connor has been given wide latitude to manage the program. For example, the 10 community prosecutors are drawn from senior staff, and since none of them carry a caseload, it’s an especially “big resource commitment,” O’Connor said.

    To maintain the support of top management and other staffers, however, the philosophy must continually generate results, O’Connor said. By creating value for the entire office—for instance, by helping improve communication between the Forensic Unit and other staff—O’Connor is trying to create as broad a base of support for the program as possible.

    There is no one way to do community prosecution. This has given jurisdictions around the country the freedom to develop their own approaches. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia has come up with its own unique version, one that emphasizes what it likes to call “smart prosecution.”

    “Smart prosecution” shares some of the features of other community prosecution programs, particularly a neighborhood focus and stronger ties to the police and community stakeholders. But “smart prosecution” is not merely a way to boost the public’s confidence in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or monitor a community’s safety-related priorities. It is also—and this is what makes it unique—an effort to enhance and make more effective the prosecutor’s traditional role of solving crimes and trying cases.

    Howard said community prosecution gives his prosecutors much more knowledge than he himself was afforded as a line prosecutor in the very same office back in the 1980s. “Back then, you found a body, a broken piece of property, some dropped drugs. You trusted your officers that you had the right people, and that was your case,” Howard said. “But what I found out was that none of these things happened in a vacuum. Ordinarily, the offender is part of a larger group, a history in that area. Community prosecution puts our prosecutors in the community, so that you understand the history of the community. Maybe someone named in the file is someone you looked at earlier. Instead of looking at them individually you realize that maybe they’re working together. Maybe it’s a precursor to gang activity or a violent act, and you realize you better take a different approach, do something to prevent things from escalating.”

    Said former Assistant U.S. Attorney DeMaurice F. Smith, who helped design the community prosecution initiative: “Even if you’re wedded to the old way, the prosecutor as gun-slinger whose only contact with the community is the case, even if that’s all you care about, community prosecution helps you. We have better information, can respond more quickly and build better cases. From purely a law-enforcement standpoint, it makes sense.

  • Community Prosecutors as Ambassadors in Indianapolis

    In Indianapolis, geographically assigned prosecutors regularly attend community meetings, including crime watch gatherings, block club meetings, business and neighborhood association meetings and meetings under the federal Weed and Seed program, said Michelle Waymire, the unit’s current supervisor.

    Marion County District Attorney Carl Brizzi said community prosecutors in effect serve as “emissaries” for the entire office. “We have over 130 prosecutors and most only venture out of the main office, or the city-county building where the courts are located, to look at crime scenes or go out and investigate with law enforcement,” Brizzi said. In comparison, “the community prosecutors are ambassadors. They’re interacting with the public and I think generating a very positive image for the office, which translates into better cooperation with law enforcement.”

    Many community residents say that what pleases them most about the community prosecution program is that it gives them better access to the prosecutor’s office. “The prosecutor is so distant in normal cases where they’re in the downtown office. You might see them when you go to court and that’s it. But I know here if I have something that needs to be addressed by a prosecutor, I can call over there [to the district office] and I’m on a first-name basis,” said Pam Cole, vice president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association Cooperative Inc., a coalition of seven neighborhood associations. The Rev. Jay Height, president of a local business association, calls the community prosecutor in his area “a sales rep” for the Prosecutor’s Office, but with all the positive connotations the words imply: someone who offers personal service, putting a face on a potentially anonymous and distant organization.

    In addition to working on solving problems in their districts, Brizzi encourages the entire community prosecution team to take “a global approach.”  One result has been the development of a school curriculum called EKG, which stands for “Educating Kids about Gun Violence.”  Community prosecutors are also developing a mentor program in an Indianapolis middle school. “Someone said to me once, ‘Why is a prosecutor spearheading mentoring programs?’ And I said ‘Because mentoring is one of the sure ways to prevent kids from getting involved in drugs and drinking,’” Brizzi said.

    Brizzi’s office also works closely with the Indianapolis Community Justice Center, which opened in May 2001. The justice center is housed in a former bank building and houses a community court (which handles cases involving low-level offending), an environmental court, and offices for probation, parole and conditional release. The community court catchment area includes parts of the East and South police districts. Misdemeanor offenders are often sentenced to work in the community and also linked to social services, many of which are housed in the justice center.

    The community prosecution team has developed a number of effective solutions to long-standing problems, such as prostitution, nuisance properties, gun violence and juvenile delinquency. What follows are closer looks at how the Community Prosecution Division has addressed two particularly persistent problems—prostitution and nuisance properties.

  • Prostitution in Indianapolis

    In Indianapolis, community input played a major role in the development of the Red Zone Program, which addresses prostitution in the city’s East District. Community prosecutor Michelle Waymire and administrator Diane Hannell, who were both originally assigned to the East District, launched the program in response to numerous complaints from both business leaders and community residents. “Prostitution was hurting businesses. [Their] employees couldn’t walk across the street without fear of being propositioned. The same was true for their customers,” Hannell said. “Indianapolis had the highest rate of syphilis in the country, so it was part of a significant health problem, too.”

     

    Representatives of the District Attorney’s Office, police and community members sat down together to hammer out a response. “There was a recognition that many prostitutes do it because they have addictions, so we thought we had a better chance of having an impact if we focused on the customers,” Waymire said.

    The resulting diversion program offers first-time offenders a chance to avoid a conviction by participating in a full Saturday of activities. 

    Participants must first admit that they’ve patronized a prostitute. They are tested for syphilis and then spend a morning listening to a Health Department presentation about sexually transmitted diseases and participating in a neighborhood impact panel, in which area residents talk about the effects prostitution has on their community. “The panel is basically volunteers from the neighborhood who get to say things like, “Hey, I live here. My kids have to deal with it. You’re using our park where our kids play,’ ” said the Rev. Jay Height, who participated in the planning of the program. At the first impact panel, offenders also heard a woman describe how the arrest of her husband several years ago for patronizing a prostitute hurt her family.

    District Attorney Carl Brizzi himself sometimes speaks to offenders. “I tell them it’s not a victimless crime.  The women are victims and the community is a victim, and they’ve violated the trust of their families, kids, girlfriends. I tell them this is an opportunity to get their lives together,” Brizzi said.

    Waymire, Height and others who developed the Red Zone Program felt it was important that offenders “pay back” the community for the harm caused by their offending. Thus, in the afternoon, the offenders, wearing orange vests to identify them as program participants, pick up trash as part of clean-up crews. “We have them clean up major thoroughfares in our area, pick up garbage, and local community groups supervise,” Height said. Offenders also agree to stay outside a one-mile radius from where they were arrested, with waivers available for those who live, work or otherwise have a valid reason to be there. Offenders must avoid committing any additional criminal offense over the next two years or face the possibility of being re-charged in the prostitution case.

    Police conduct regular stings to arrest offenders, and the prosecutor’s office usually sets aside one Saturday a month for the Red Zone Program with anywhere from six to 30 offenders participating on a given day. Participants frequently begin the day “arms crossed and grumbling,” Waymire said, but by the end of the day many express contrition. In a survey completed at the end of the day, one participant wrote:  “I’m glad I got caught. It kept me from a deviant lifestyle. The guilt and shame has been excruciating, yet beneficial. Thank you.”

    In the East District, where the program began, 152 offenders participated over the course of the program’s first four years. The program has since expanded to the South and West police districts. While the Red Zone hasn’t eliminated prostitution, it does force hot spots to move—and the police stings to move with it. “The community loves it,” Waymire said. “Community members are seeing these offenders come back and do something to make their neighborhoods better.”  Prosecutors also invite the media to attend their Red Zone weekends to help get the word out about the program and hopefully prevent future offending.

    Height said the program reflects the fact that the vast majority of people who solicit prostitutes are not from the area. The point of the program, he says, is two-fold—“to show them that it’s not a victimless crime and to discourage them from coming back here.” 

     

  • Drug-Free Zones in Portland

     

     

    Community prosecutors in Portland have spent a significant amount of their energy addressing problems related to drugs. Because jails were overcrowded, dealers were often released on their own recognizance and were back at the same location, peddling their wares within hours. This reality proved frustrating to police, local stakeholders and prosecutors.

    “The police as part of a community policing pilot had set up a public safety work group,” said Wayne Pearson, who supervises Portland’s Neighborhood D.A. Unit and participated in the work group. “And the community was asking me at these meetings why when a police officer arrests a person for drug offending are they back there in hours? Why aren’t they kept away?” 

    It was police officers who came up with the idea that offenders be released only on the condition that they not return to the area where they were arrested. But setting such a condition, Pearson realized, was harder than it sounded. Pearson determined that judges had the power to ban dealers from certain areas as a condition of release, but the police didn’t have the power to enforce the bans without returning to court and obtaining an arrest warrant—a complicated and lengthy process that made the proposal unworkable. “All an officer can do is send a memo to a judge and ask him to put out a warrant, and all of that would take days or maybe weeks,” Pearson said.

    And yet Pearson’s legal training told him that a solution was possible. “Constitutional rights are not absolute. We know that a felon can have his right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment removed or limited because he has abused that right, even by committing a crime unrelated to gun possession,” Pearson said. “And in free speech, that right is always subject to reasonable time, place, manner restrictions… I said this is not an easy nut to crack, but it’s also something that’s not without precedent. That suggested to me that if we were careful about the way we approached this, it might work.”

    Guided by this reasoning, Pearson partnered with the City Attorney’s Office, the Portland Police Bureau and the community to propose a new ordinance to the City Council. The ordinance created a “drug-free zone,” the first of its kind in the country. (The name originally proposed was a “high-vice area restriction” but community members objected, feeling that the words “high vice” denigrated the neighborhood. “They said, ‘We don’t want the whole city to stamp us with a negative name like “high vice.” Why don’t you call it a drug-free zone, so that the implication to the community at large would be that these sorts of behaviors won’t be tolerated here?’” Pearson recalled as an example of the value and need for community involvement.)

    Prosecutors spent a good deal of time researching not only the legal underpinnings of the proposed ordinance but also selling it to the entire community. “The commander of the local precinct and I took this draft ordinance around and talked to anybody and everybody who may have wanted input,” Pearson said. “We went to all the needle exchange programs, methadone clinics, social service providers, homeless clinics, to explain what it was, who it was aimed at.” 

    In the first iteration of the ordinance, three drug-free zones were created. “The deputies spent hours driving around the neighborhoods just to make sure they got the boundaries right. It took thousands of hours of prep working with the city attorney,” said Judy Phelan, Schrunk’s staff assistant.

    “In the end, the ordinance sailed through [the City Council] primarily because we’d gone around to virtually everybody, including the ACLU, who might have an impression about it and given them the opportunity for input,” Pearson said.

    The ordinance strives to be “very due-process oriented,” Pearson said, which has thus far allowed it to withstand legal challenges. Offenders, for instance, can appeal the exclusion and get variances if they live or work in the zone.

    How Drug-Free Zones Work
    This is how the drug-free zone works:  If someone is arrested for a drug offense within the zone, the arresting officer can issue a 90-day notice of exclusion from the zone. If the person enters the zone within 90 days, he or she can be arrested for criminal trespass. This eliminates the cumbersome and time-consuming process of obtaining a contempt warrant for every violation.

    When the ordinance sunsets every few years, the City Council, Prosecutor’s Office, Portland Police Bureau, the community and City Attorney’s Office have a chance to make adjustments to the law before renewing it. The biggest part of the process is usually changing the zones’ boundaries. “We go back and see how drug usage and dealing have changed. In some cases, zones or parts of zones have been abolished and taken off the books because the drug dealing has completely gone away,” Pearson said.

    At one point, there were as many as five drug-free zones. Currently, the city has two.  Recently, there were 2,000 exclusions in effect in Portland, although many of the exclusions involved multiple citations of the same offender.

    The D.A.’s Office says the drug-free zones have proven highly effective. The drug market was eradicated in one area of town and drug arrests significantly reduced in two of the zones. In one, drug arrests dropped 48 percent the first year and 51 percent the second year. In the same period citywide, drug arrests increased by 20 percent the first year and 21 percent the next. The District Attorney’s Office has kept a close eye on displacement; while there has certainly been some, arrest statistics seem to indicate that dealers haven’t simply picked up and moved wholesale to areas without drug-free zones.

     

  • An Easier Way to Obtain a Warrant in Portland

    Since its launching in 1990, the Multnomah County’s Neighborhood D.A. Program has tackled numerous problems, among them: graffiti, gangs, illegal camping, chronic truancy, car prowls, pan-handling and elder abuse. What follows is a description of one strategy the office employed to address public-safety concerns.

    Traditionally, in order to obtain a search warrant Portland police and prosecutors had to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that drugs were being sold on a property. This was a very high standard, one that usually required at least three undercover buys but also one that went above the requirements of statute and case law. After a thorough examination of case law, prosecutors determined that they only needed to prove that there was “probable cause” to believe someone was selling drugs on the property in order to obtain a search warrant.

    This determination allowed the neighborhood prosecutors to develop an alternative method of obtaining a search warrant. From this arose the “community-driven search warrants,” which leveraged community resources by allowing neighbors to get involved. Prosecutors successfully argued in court that neighbors’ observations of suspicious activity—such as people coming in and out of a house at all hours of the day and night—supported by two or three hours of observation by police were enough to establish probable cause and obtain a warrant.

    An important part of this plan was that the neighbors’ identities be kept confidential. “An affidavit from a police officer saying that these observations are accurate allowed us to keep warrants anonymous,” said Michael Kuykendall, a former neighborhood D.A. who helped develop the strategy. “The warrants would note how long the informant has lived in the neighborhood, the lack of criminal history, the fact that they were personally known to the officer, and then we’d have an officer sit on the property to prove the reliability of the neighbor’s observations.”

    The citizen-driven warrants have gone through several iterations. Initially, prosecutors asked neighbors to keep detailed logs of drug house activity over weeks and even months. But they found that they were asking too much. “It’s difficult to get the neighbors to sit there and watch this place for four hours a night over months. And they’d pay attention to things that weren’t important or necessary to secure the warrant. For example, they would obtain license plate numbers, but they might work so hard to get them that they would fail to observe the patterns of activity we were interested in to obtain the warrant,” Hayden said.

    Prosecutors then abandoned the detailed logs and created instead an affidavit for a search warrant that was essentially a checklist police officers could use to interview neighbors. The checklists are detailed but also easy to complete, allowing the officers to obtain thorough information quickly. The checklist warrants describe all the possible patterns that indicate likely drug sales, like people surreptitiously exchanging small items, including money, or cars driving by the residence slowly, or people looking nervously up and down the street as they enter and exit the house. A log took months to complete, but a checklist can be done in an afternoon.

    Police officers then attempt to corroborate the information provided by the community. Corroboration can take the form of pre-existing “police reports, or undercover drug buys, or just purely our own observation,” said Police Officer Roger Axthelm, a neighborhood officer assigned to the Northeast Precinct. “We’ll either set up an observation from a vehicle, or a nearby house. We usually watch a couple of hours. ”

    The best thing about the community-driven search warrants is “they’re really quick,” Axthelm said. “The fastest we’ve ever done one is two days between the time we first talked to the neighbor complainant and served the warrant.”

    Those arrested as a result of the warrants are taken to community court (Multnomah County has four community courts, which focus on low-level offenses), where they are charged with a drug-related misdemeanor and usually receive a sentence of community service in exchange for a guilty plea, Hayden said. Meanwhile, the Police Bureau, city and the neighborhood D.A. officially contact the landlord and inform him or her that the property is in danger of being boarded-up by the city if the problems persist; more often than not the landlord decides evicting the problem tenant is the best course of action.

    Out of 17 community-driven search warrants executed in the Northeast Precinct from April 2002 to May 2003, nine resulted in evictions. Four, involving owner-occupied buildings, resulted in owner citations and, in the case of a 70-year-old owner, referrals to a range of social services.

    “In most cases the activity has gone away and not come back,” Hayden said. “We work with the landlords to ensure they don’t rent to more problem people.” 

  • Burglary of Vehicles in Austin

    Eric McDonald had been on the job for only six months when Austin District Attorney Ronald Earle asked him to work as the neighborhood district attorney in the downtown area. McDonald accepted, saying he was intrigued by the idea of focusing on the “overall problems in the community” rather than addressing problems in the courtroom, one offender at a time.

     

     

    His aim initially was to establish a rapport with the community. He walked the streets of the district and introduced himself to storeowners and residents. He attended meetings of established community groups. And he actively brought community members together by establishing a crime advisory board. The board consists of representatives of social service providers, faith-based groups and law enforcement, as well as area residents and business owners.

    “The goal of the board is to get the community involved and get a good cross section of everybody who is participating and working on downtown issues. It also helps prioritize what we want to focus on in the downtown area,” McDonald said. The board has about 30 invited members, about half of whom regularly show up at monthly meetings to identify hot spots and brainstorm solutions.

    McDonald’s understanding of community concerns was enhanced by a survey that he distributed to local residential and business associations as well participants at meetings he attended. The seven-question survey, which about 250 people completed, asked questions like, “What do you feel are the major crime and crime-related problems in the downtown Austin community?” and “How safe do you feel in the downtown area during the day and night?”

    It was the feedback from all these sources—community meetings, the crime advisory board and the survey as well as police data—that led McDonald to focus on burglaries of vehicles as a top priority.

    “The commander of the area told me if you can reduce our burglary of motor vehicles you could go a long way in dropping the overall crime rate,” McDonald said, noting that police had recorded an average of 110 car burglaries a month. “Also, residents in the downtown area were telling us that they themselves or visitors they knew had had their cars broken into. It seemed to be an issue that really needed to be looked at, and one we thought we could have an impact on without simply making more arrests.”

    McDonald created a task force to look at the issue. The task force included two officers from the Austin Police Department, a security manager from a large hotel, the president of the downtown area neighborhood association, a member of the downtown business association, a bar owner, an advocate for the homeless and someone representing the city’s lighting department. McDonald said he recruited participants based on their interest in the issue and the skills and knowledge they could bring to the topic.

    “The first thing we did was look at Police Department stats and make hot spot maps to see where it was most prevalent. Then we actually visited the locations during the day and at night to check out what environmental changes could be made,” McDonald said. “That’s when we got this guy from Austin City Lighting involved, because we saw some areas where the lighting was bad.”  In another hot spot, task force members noted that trees were overgrown. They also found that vehicle burglaries were three to four times more common at night.  

    Ultimately, the best information about the problem came from the offenders themselves. McDonald and a crime analyst from the Police Department actually interviewed about 15 convicted burglars. “It was amazing the similarity of the stories,” McDonald said. “Most were addicted to crack, although some were alcoholics. All for the most part were living on the street or on the verge of living on the street. Most admitted to being responsible for multiple car break-ins that they were never caught doing. One guy said he did over 700. He was a young kid, and he may have been lying a little bit, but who knows?”

    The burglars said they could get in and out of a car in a matter of two minutes. They believed the probability of getting caught was fairly slim. “I could see how one person could be responsible for five or six of them in one night,” McDonald said. “The bottom line was that it didn’t matter if the car was a Mercedes, or old Honda, what would cause them to try and break in was if there was something of value that was visible when walking by, CDs, cell phones, quarters just sitting out. They didn’t break into the car to go digging.”

    The information from these interviews led the task force to conclude that simply hiding valuables from view would put a dent in the number of burglaries. The focus then turned to education—that is, how to help potential victims reduce their vulnerability to theft.

    The task force decided to create a flier in the form of a “vehicle inspection” survey. Beat officers and rangers (who are employed by the Downtown Austin Alliance, a business group) slip the survey, which offers a pass or fail grade, under windshield wipers. A “Pass” goes to vehicles with locked doors and no visible valuables. For those who fail, the survey warns in all capital letters, “Caution! You could have been a victim.”  Under “Fail” is a checklist of risks: property openly displayed; vehicle left open; parked in poorly lit or hard to observe location.

    “When we first began to distribute the fliers, 70 percent of the cars had something of value visible,” McDonald said.

    A local insurance company printed 10,000 flyers, which were distributed during the last four months of 2002. The flyers led to an immediate and significant drop in the number of burglaries the very first month—from about 110 to about 65, McDonald said.

    The task force also encouraged a couple of businesses to put better lighting in adjacent alleys and the city replaced a number of street lights that had burnt out. Some bars and night spots also equipped their doormen and parking lot attendants with communication equipment so they could immediately report suspicious behavior. “A lot of the burglaries were happening in parking lots so we tried to educate the parking attendants to tell customers about stowing away their items. We actually posted 10 metal signs in the public parking garages that say ‘Stow away your items,’” McDonald said.

     “If we could keep it up on a monthly basis, I think that number of 65 or 70 a month would continue to drop. The key is to be committed to it for the long term,” McDonald said.

     

  • Offenders Re-entering the Austin Community

    It was clear to even a casual observer that there was a significant homeless population in downtown Austin. But what was not clear was how the community should respond. In analyzing the problem, community prosecutor Eric McDonald discovered, almost by accident, that the homeless population included a number of recently-released inmates.
     
    “I’d been told by the Salvation Army, which runs the largest shelter in the area, that occasionally they would see law enforcement vans from neighboring counties drop off people at their place,” McDonald said. Then McDonald confirmed that the state jail was dropping up to 60 people a month on the street in front of the shelter. “That’s when it clicked, that there literally is a revolving door,” McDonald said.

    Many of the offenders had been arrested on drug charges. “Knowing that this area around the Salvation Army is a hot spot for crack, and knowing that so many of the offenders are addicted to crack, I couldn’t believe it was happening,” McDonald said. “I knew if we really wanted to have an impact on downtown on the vagrancy and crack cocaine, we’d have to do something about this because it’s creating an endless supply of these individuals.”

    Fortunately, the administrators of the state jail were willing partners. As it turned out, the state jail simply didn’t have the resources to ensure that every inmate had a discharge plan, or that those with plans actually followed them. The prison sponsored a day when social service providers would come to the prison and meet with offenders, but offenders were not required to attend—and those with discipline problems were actually prohibited from participating. And even those with plans to enter, say, a half-way house, were still being dropped off in front of the Salvation Army and told to make their own way to the half-way house. The state jail had selected that location because of its proximity to many of the city’s social service providers—but the reality was that few of the former inmates were finding their way to services. “Once they’re on the street, they can score crack in five minutes so the chances of making it to the half-way house on their own were pretty slim,” McDonald said.

    McDonald then contacted as many potential partners as possible, including the warden, halfway houses, drug rehabilitation facilities, AIDS service providers, homeless shelters and organizations that work with ex-offenders. “I tried basically to educate myself about all the potential resources for these guys,” McDonald said.

    McDonald found that there seemed to be enough resources; the only problem was making sure that just-released inmates were linked with the proper ones. With the permission of the administrators at the state jail, McDonald decided to meet with each inmate before his release.  At each session he talks about available services, reviews what benefits the inmate might be entitled to, and then explains the consequences of re-offending. “Many have multiple convictions, and I tell them that they could face the three strikes law. I also mention to them that they are prohibited from possessing any type of firearm for the rest of their lives and if caught doing so would be held accountable in federal court through the [Department of Justice-funded] Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. But I also emphasize that I’m there to help.”

    After each meeting, McDonald arranges for post-release housing and the Austin Police Department provides donated clothes. Perhaps most important, upon their release the police drive each person to a temporary home. “Many say, ‘I keep telling the judge not to drop me back downtown after I serve my time, but I keep getting dropped back down there,’” McDonald said.

    To monitor the effectiveness of the program, McDonald periodically runs the names of participants through the criminal database to see if any have been re-arrested. Results so far have been promising. From September 2003, when the program began, to January 2004, McDonald met with 59 soon-to-be-former inmates (who collectively had literally hundreds of criminal convictions) and 53 agreed to go to a halfway house outside of the downtown area.

    Of the six who refused to participate, five have been re-arrested—some within days of their release and at least one has been re-arrested four times. Of the 53 in the program, however, only 10 have been re-arrested or received a field release citation for a new offense. “At this point it appears that the program is having an impact on reducing the recidivism in downtown and for the city as a whole,” McDonald said, noting that the 53 participants “are a very high-risk population—most are chronically homeless and some have literally 9 or 10 pages of criminal history.”