To achieve justice for the communities they serve, prosecutors must enlist members of the public to be part of the solution. IPS grantees are engaging with their jurisdictions’ residents, schools, and community leaders — as well as victims and defendants — to better understand the public’s concerns, provide crucial information about drugs and violence, and offer needed services to target the root causes of crime.
As part of a broader strategy to reduce gang and youth violence in Jacksonville, FL, the State Attorney’s Office has expanded its data and analytical capacity by hiring a data analyst/evaluation specialist and a data information specialist. These two team members are helping to strengthen the office’s Targeted Prosecution Unit by conducting a needs assessment and implementing new data improvement projects within the unit. To enhance the work of the office’s Community Prosecution Unit, they are also developing the infrastructure needed to maintain community-facing dashboards and track community engagement outputs and outcomes over time. These efforts will enable the Targeted Prosecution and Community Prosecution Units to more effectively identify, adopt, and evaluate strategies to address violent crime in Jacksonville.
Milwaukee, WI is taking a similar approach to stem the rise in opioid overdose deaths, particularly from fentanyl — a trend that has only worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A specialized Opioid Community Prosecutor (OCP) in the District Attorney's Office is heading up a team that includes the West Allis Police Department Drug Unit, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and the District Attorney’s Violent Crimes Division to implement a coordinated, intelligence-led strategy to reduce overdoses. That strategy uses social network analysis, enhanced investigations, and prosecutions of high-profile opioid dealers in combination with overdose fatality reviews, community outreach, early intervention, and provision of substance abuse treatment for victims. The OCP is also expanding its reach beyond overdose victims by connecting victims’ friends and family members with treatment and socioeconomic support services.
Nassau County, NY is using IPS funds to invest in child development. The District Attorney’s (DA)’s Office is working with Hempstead Middle School and NYGEAR UP to provide an after-school study and sports program for at-risk adolescents. The office is also conducting a similar after-school program for newly-arrived immigrant youth, a population that is particularly vulnerable to MS-13 gang recruitment. Community engagement workers will supervise school dismissal time and conduct walking patrols through target areas to further deter gang recruitment and involvement with middle and high school students.
Other sites are enlisting the help of their communities to combat witness intimidation. In Miami, FL, the State Attorney’s Office embedded a team of prosecutors and advocates in the Northside Police District to enhance victim and witness safety, liaise with community members to gather actionable intelligence, and engage with the public to break the pervasive “anti-snitch” mentality. Through a new effort at the Circuit Attorney’s Office (CAO) in St. Louis, MO, a victim advocate and investigator will assist victims and witnesses at risk of intimidation and connect them to needed services, while a designated attorney will train CAO staff on how to conduct risk assessments and protect witnesses. They’ll also be developing a mobile app to make it easier to communicate with victims.
Sites are also conducting community outreach to improve the safety and well-being of intimate partner violence survivors. The County District Attorney in San Diego, CA used IPS funds to test the idea of using texts to notify victims when the office could not file charges. The messages were framed to ensure that victims had a clear understanding of the nature and content of the notification and included links to resources. In a follow-up survey, the DA’s office found that victims who received a text notification were more likely to be satisfied with the case outcome than those who didn’t; they also reported better life circumstances. Most notably, 76% of victims who received the texts indicated they would “definitely report” future domestic violence, as compared with 59% of victims who did not receive a notification.
Sharing information with local communities can be a powerful tool in deterring criminal activity and building trust in the justice system. To crack down on organized financial crime in Chicago, IL, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office hired a specialized Financial and Cyber Crimes prosecutor, who works closely with Community Justice Centers and advises citizens who have been victims of financial crime or have been solicited to take part in these crimes. By educating vulnerable populations — potential unwitting accomplices who might provide personal information or set up bank accounts in support of a financial scheme — the specialized prosecutor can help prevent cyber crime and consumer fraud from the ground up.
In Savannah, GA, the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office held regular public meetings in crime hotspots to increase public awareness about local violence and discuss neighborhood safety concerns and relevant case updates. They also regularly shared statistics and reports via social media. This effort was complemented by a community clean-up initiative, during which the Mayor and District Attorney, along with representatives from their staffs, walked through the community picking up trash and providing information about projects and services available to residents.
Several sites are launching educational campaigns to tackle the ongoing opioid crisis. In New Orleans, LA, the Orleans Parish District Attorney is partnering with the Louisiana Public Health Institute to create an alert system that identifies and reports “bad batch” trends (when a shipment of drugs is mixed with a deadly amount of another substance — often fentanyl) to public health stakeholders and the community. Meanwhile, in Worcester County, MA, the Middle District Attorney’s Office’s Outreach Unit is getting crucial information about opioids to local schools and vulnerable communities. The IPS team is partnering with the Central Massachusetts Opioid Task Force on a regional strategy that incorporates prevention education, intervention, and treatment. Leveraging other grants and resources, the Task Force is continuing to supply first responders with naloxone, recovery coaching, and informational materials for distribution to the public.
The Office of the District Attorney in Covington County, AL is launching an ad campaign to encourage witnesses to an overdose to call 911 without fear of being arrested. The DA is also working with all local doctors and pharmacists to promote safe prescribing protocols and with high school students to enable them to educate their peers about the dangers of opioid use. In turn, the students are helping the DA develop social media material to further discourage drug use.
As part of its efforts to curb youth gun violence in Plymouth County, MA, the District Attorney’s Office is supporting the enhancement of the Safe Streets community coalition. This includes building sustainable law enforcement/community partnerships, as well as enhancing community and first responder awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — and their subsequent effects on criminality. The IPS team is also working with clergy and other community leaders to educate residents about the criminal justice response to gun crime and build trust between the community and the prosecutor’s office.
Hocking County, OH, and Clare County, MI are both taking a service-oriented approach to combatting the opioid crisis. In Hocking County, the Prosecutor’s Office is partnering with the Hocking Overdose Partnership Endeavor (HOPE) — a multidisciplinary intervention and risk-reduction response team — to provide substance abuse and behavioral health services to low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. The team will work with overdose survivors, those at risk, and their family members to build a recovery plan with the wraparound services and peer support necessary to rebuild their lives.
In Clare County, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is investing in several programs, including Recovery Court, which was established to address the needs of individuals considered high-risk substance abuse offenders, as well as veterans experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health crises. The office is also continuing to work with the Central Michigan Health Department to implement their syringe replacement program, as the county has been identified as a hotspot for communicable diseases related to needle-sharing.
Other sites are using service-provision strategies to address everything from gun violence to human trafficking. In Hawaii County, HI, the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney (OPA) is counting on community support to combat witness intimidation and repeat offending on Hawaii’s Big Island. OPA is lead the development of a Coordinated Community Response (CCR) — comprised of local and federal law enforcement, social service organizations, housing providers, educational institutions, workforce development organizations, legal aid, the faith-based community, and the military — to help crime victims feel safer and to increase their ability to participate in the criminal justice process. The CCR will serve as the foundation for a Violent Repeat Offender Program, which will provide defendants with intensified services to address the root causes of their criminal activity.
To address human trafficking in Nashville, TN, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office is partnering with Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. (Healing Enslaved and Repressed Trafficking Survivors), a program that provides a wide range of community-based services to adults who have been victimized by sex trafficking. After Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S identifies a justice-involved individual who has formerly been trafficked, a case manager identifies the participant’s needs and coordinates service provision, which may include short- or long-term housing, rent assistance, substance abuse treatment, physical and mental healthcare, public transportation subsidies, safety planning, referrals for GED/continuing education, job skills training, and driver’s license reinstatement. The program is designed to help participants break the criminal cycle and heal from their trauma.
Finally, the City Prosecutor’s Office in Long Beach, CA is using a novel approach to help the justice system close persistent service gaps. Through the Government User Integrated Diversion Enhancement System (GUIDES), a new mobile information-sharing app currently being developed through IPS, officers responding to persons in need of services will be able to access individuals’ publicly available health information and criminal records in real time and connect them with proper assistance. The IPS team believes that, if law enforcement can immediately divert people to the services they need, they can build trust in the criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and promote public safety.