This report about the Prosecutor’s operation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding this serious problem. When the analysis of Sheriff Brown’s operation is completed you will see an ever more depressive picture of citizen safety
This needs analysis uses 2008 as the benchmark for staffing and M&O budgeting. That was the last year at which the Prosecutors office was fully staffed to perform all of the functions mandated by statute and state constitution.
It is notable that in 1999, they had a total of 5.5 deputy prosecutors on the criminal side of the office, including a Chief Criminal Deputy. Current staffing is below that level, although caseloads are higher.
During the same time period, from 2008 through 2013, Maintenance and Operations budget was reduced from $142,198 to $121,353. In 2013 the entire budget of the Island County Prosecutor’s Office is $1,388, 319.
Impact of lost staff:
The loss of the Chief Criminal Deputy has had a tremendous impact. That person was the operational director of all criminal prosecution activities. His/her role included training/supervision of line deputy prosecutors, case load assignment and management, prosecution of major crimes, and liaison with law enforcement agencies.
With the elimination of that position, the elected prosecutor has taken on those duties, to the extent possible. The cascading effect is that the elected prosecutor functions much as a deputy prosecutor, and has all but withdrawn from criminal justice leadership activities at both the County and State level.
The loss of two other criminal deputy prosecuting attorneys (DPAs) crippled the office in 2010 and 2011. This resulted in simply not prosecuting hundreds of criminal traffic offenses, and made ‘fire-sale” deals on cases at all levels. Major cases tended to be delayed for lack of time to prepare them.
The reinstatement of one of those positions, coupled with the decline in misdemeanor cases (a direct result of fewer law enforcement officers) has allowed us to regain footing in the District Court. However, they are still an office that does not fire on all cylinders. The most immediate and critical impacts caused by low staffing are:
*Inability to prosecute crimes to full extent of the law due to unsustainable caseloads
*Delays in filing charges and bringing cases to trial due to caseloads
*The addition of one or more major criminal cases to the baseline caseload has deleterious effects on entire office, as resources must be reassigned, and less serious cases are backlogged or resolved on terms unfavorable to the public.
*Elimination of in-house training of deputy prosecutors
*Elimination of training of police officers by prosecutors (on such critical topics as search and seizure law changes, domestic and sexual violence case preparation, etc.)
*Deputy Prosecutor burn-out (this is compounded by paying our deputy prosecutors near the lowest salaries in the State).
Although our criminal caseloads have generally declined since 2008, the trend began to reverse last year. In addition, the closure of a mental health facility in Skagit County has added a new caseload of involuntary commitment hearings in Island County.
This is a brand new caseload that had to be absorbed with no new staff, training, or resources.
Specific Needs: This is in addition to the 2013 budgeted staffing, and assumes that the two positions that will sunset at the end of the year will also continue into 2014.
Absolutely Essential Needs:
Reinstate Chief Criminal Deputy P.A. (salary and benefits): $110,000
Reinstate 0.5 FTE legal assistant to Full Time (would require full benefits): $ 24,000
Estimated increase in M&O Expenses $ 5,000
Investigator Assigned to P.A. (S&B) $70,000
Reinstate 3rd District Court DPA in anticipation of rising caseload due to more Sheriff’s deputies (S&B) $65,000
Estimated increase in M&O Expenses $ 7,500
The re-creation of a Chief Criminal DPA position and the expansion of the part time legal assistant to full time are the most critical needs, even given current case loads.
Being staffed for the minimum possible caseload is unworkable whenever a major crime is committed, or when there is a cluster of criminal activity that pushes a surge of new cases into the office. Additional personnel necessarily results in a rise in M&O expenses, based on use of additional supplies, travel, training, etc.
One can assume that the addition of law enforcement officers will result in a rise in caseloads, particularly in the District Court, resulting in an increase of 200 – 250 that might be sustainable for District Court cases with current DPA staffing. (Note – an increase of 200 would have District Court DPAs handling about 600 cases per year. This would be more than twice the attorney caseload that the Supreme Court has mandated as the maximum for public defenders.)
The cutbacks in law enforcement have also resulted in unnecessary competition for investigative resources in all law enforcement agencies on major cases. When felony level investigations are referred to the Prosecutors office, DPAs often request detectives to conduct additional follow-up investigation before charges can be filed, or in preparation for trial. Unfortunately, the number of detectives in the ICSO is inadequate
Detective resources also appear to be stretched. Detectives are often required to respond to newly committed major crimes, and follow-up requests from the Prosecutor take a back seat, not withstanding court and statutory deadlines, including rapes and homicides, where follow-up was delayed for weeks and even months, due to emergent new cases.
White collar criminal cases often involve data-intensive and time-consuming investigations that are simply prioritized lower than violent crimes Some of this genre have taken years to complete because of prioritization issues.
In Langley and Coupeville, there are no dedicated investigators, although they are required follow-up on their felonies just like anyone else’s.
Needed is either an investigator position be created within the prosecutor’s office, or one be created within to the Sheriff’s Office, but specifically assigned to assist the prosecutor in follow-up investigation for felony crimes from any agency.