Monday, March 14, 2011

Community prosecutors focus on East Patrol Division

We're seeing some success with a program the Municipal Prosecutor's Office started about five months ago: neighborhood prosecutors. Read this story from our Informant newsletter to learn about the difference they're making in the East Patrol Division:

A whole sector of East Patrol Division officers were persuaded to show up to Municipal Court in February to get a persistent offender behind bars.

“We wanted to make an impact on the judge,” said Monica Smith, one of two community prosecutors assigned to East Patrol as part of a grant-funded pilot project with the Municipal Prosecutor’s office. “We wanted to show the defendant is affecting the quality of life of people who live and work in that neighborhood.”

“Who better to come to court than the people who see him everyday – the officers?” said Lindsay Arbuthnot, the other community prosecutor.

The community prosecutor program has been operating since October 2010. Five months in, Captain Bob Zimmerman said it’s getting results.

“They’ve really helped in a situation that’s been mostly frustrating for a lot of officers,” he said. “…There was never an outlet before if you had a problem house or a person you’re constantly taking to jail. The bad guy gets probation in one courtroom and then goes on to another.”

But now officers are turning information on these habitual offenders over to Arbuthnot and Smith.

“With the 1,000 to 2,000 cases that hit Municipal Court every day, prosecutors working at that pace don’t have the time to concentrate on the cases they need to,” Assistant City Attorney Beth Murano said. “The idea of community prosecutors is to be able to let the police and community bring the knowledge they have so the prosecutor can have a strategy for prosecution and not just go through the motions.”

Smith and Arbuthnot are currently monitoring the cases of 38 different people, all persistent offenders. Twenty of them are in the high-crime target areas of 27th and Prospect and Independence and Benton. Officers picked 10 of their most repeat offenders at each location and told Smith and Arbuthnot about them. Smith and Arbuthnot move to have judges ban the offenders from re-entering the target areas as a condition of their probation. If they’re spotted there again, they can get more than 180 days in jail.

“We monitor their cases, and we’re there when they go to court,” Smith said.

A prostitute who repeatedly was arrested at Independence Avenue and Benton presented a continual problem for officers, who even tried to get her into several social services. She rejected their efforts and kept breaking the law, so the community prosecutors got her a two-year jail sentence, nearly unheard of in Municipal Court, Captain Zimmerman said.

In addition to the police, Smith and Arbuthnot are collaborating with neighborhood associations and residents. They work out of the Vineyard Neighborhood Association’s offices and are involved in a number of area task forces. They attend neighborhood meetings and pass on crime information they hear to police.

They’ve also made it a point to get to know EPD officers by regularly attending roll calls, sectors-as-teams meetings and going on ride-alongs. The officers keep them up to date on their problem individuals, and the community prosecutors keep the officers apprised on how those individuals’ cases are making their way through the court system.

Murano said she would like to expand the community prosecutor program into the Central Patrol Division and beyond and is looking for ways to fund it.

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