Prosecutors and law enforcement officers can do communities more harm than good if the wrong strategies are in place, San Francisco’s district attorney said during a national conference here Monday.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said over-incarceration hasn’t reduced crime, but it has created a lot of problems for many communities over the past three decades.
“We can’t apply the rules that were used 20 or 30 years ago,” Gascón said during a luncheon at the Symposium on Intelligence-Driven Prosecution being held here this week.
He said the wrong strategy can result in people not wanting police in their communities, which he said has been the case in some communities in Los Angeles, or people not wanting to report crime to law enforcement.
He discussed the workings of Crime Strategies Units, which he said were “on the cutting edge of what public safety needs to look like in the 21st century.” “We have to come up with a lawful, thoughtful, respectful way to reduce crime,” he said.
To accomplish that goal, he created his initial CSU in San Francisco in 2014. The unit he created served as the model for one created last year by the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office here in Bernalillo County, the first of its kind in New Mexico.
“There were really only two offices in the country that were head and shoulders above the district attorneys, and that was New York — where crime strategies started — and then there was San Francisco,” 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez said. “We went to San Francisco in part because they had developed the latest version of the Crime Strategies Unit, and they also had access to really cutting edge technology in Silicon Valley. We thought that was going to be very helpful.”
San Francisco also presented a blueprint “probably closer to what this county looked like,” Gascón said.
He called CSUs “a new way of thinking that will work.”
“Rather than going and sweeping entire neighborhoods, we need to look at the crime drivers … and look behind the curtain and see what will be the right intervention. The right intervention could be drug treatment, it could be mental health issues. For somebody else, it could be custody. It could be jail, it could be prison.”
For Torrez, the work of the San Francisco CSU in dealing with auto theft and auto burglary issues was of particular interest for local community leaders.
“There was a sense of importance of finding criminal networks and high-crime drivers,” he said. “And then using data to inform and make more precise judgments as to what to do with criminal defendants when they came into the system.”
Gascón said he is impressed with how quickly Torrez’s office “ramped things up.”
“We’ve made pretty fast progress,” Torrez said. “We didn’t get funding for the office until the summer of last year, 2018. We’ve been in operation for less than a year. We will be unveiling a new tech center in the District Attorney’s Office later in May. In terms of technological advances, our partnerships with New Mexico Tech and Sandia National labs have been extraordinary. They’ve advanced our technical capabilities to a whole new level. They’re critical in helping us pull in relevant data from multiple data sources.”
Gascón, a former police chief, said it was important to have cooperation from law enforcement when setting up a CSU.
Torrez said the cooperation between his office and law enforcement is going well.
“It’s always tough when you try something new,” he said. “We’re trying to educate and work with law enforcement. They’ve been very helpful, and we’ve been able to assist in a number of recent violent crime cases, gun-related cases. We’re hoping our partnership is only going to get better.”