Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Remarks to Board of Supervisors

Remarks of:

Ventura County District Attorney
Gregory D. Totten

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget
Board of Supervisors Hearing

May 14, 2013

Chairman Foy, members of the Board, and Mr. Powers, good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to offer comment on the District Attorney’s fiscal year 2014 budget prior to formal budget hearings on June 17. I want to thank Mr. Powers and his capable staff once again for their professionalism and assistance during the target budget development process.

While we still face budget challenges and risks, the outlook for the coming fiscal year has improved. As reflected in the FY14 Preliminary Budget Book, restricted prosecution revenues have increased and Prop 172 Public Safety Sales Tax revenues have returned to levels not seen since 2006. Real Estate Document Fee revenue has increased, and we continue to aggressively pursue grant funding to offset prosecution costs.

With the CEO’s proposed General Fund Target, we are projecting a balanced budget that will permit us to fill several frozen positions. So I respectfully request that your Board approve the CEO’s recommendation for the District Attorney’s Office at next month’s final budget hearing. This budget contemplates 267 allocations with 19 vacancies. While this 7 percent vacancy rate is still higher than we prefer, by comparison, last year we had 30 vacancies at the budget snapshot.

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We continue to look for ways to improve business processes – both to save taxpayer resources and enhance efficiencies for our staff and those we serve:
• Storage Project – For example, this past year the office successfully partnered with GSA to transfer our offsite case files from private storage to GSA’s records storage facility. This move reduces County costs by more than $25,000 per year. I particularly want to commend Paul Grossgold and the GSA staff for their help on this project.

• Discovery – We are also developing processes to reduce the volume of printed police reports in our cases. By storing police reports in electronic format until printed copies are actually needed, we hope to reduce thousands of printed documents each year. Earlier efforts to scan reports in our fraud cases and digitally store case disks submitted by law enforcement produced a 42 percent decline in pages copied between 2010 and 2012.

• Automating Investigation Requests – Similarly, we are expanding the use of the County’s VCIJIS system to automate follow-up case investigation requests to our law enforcement colleagues. The automated system will reduce expenses, while improving efficiency.

I want to highlight just a few of last year’s accomplishments:
• Core Criminal Prosecutions – We continue to aggressively prosecute our core criminal cases. The Preliminary Budget Book profiles several homicide cases prosecuted last year. Murder cases along with sexual assault, child molestation, domestic violence, gang crimes, and other violent street crimes, continue to be our top priority and receive the lion’s share of resources. The dedicated men and women of this office continue to do great work producing an 81 percent trial conviction rate and a 90 percent overall conviction rate.

• Conviction Integrity Prosecutor – But the duty of a prosecutor “is that guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer.” The advent of enhanced DNA technology and other forensic advances have produced a number of highly publicized exonerations across America. In some of those cases, the exonerated spent decades in custody before new evidence or additional scientific analysis determined they were factually innocent. These cases have shown that while the American system of justice remains the best ever created by man, and while they are thankfully very rare, mistakes can and do occur.

So last August, I designated Special Assistant District Attorney Mike Schwartz as the office’s conviction integrity prosecutor and we adopted a policy for convicted defendants and their lawyers to bring errors to the office for review.

• SB 1342 – Thanks to your Board’s leadership, Ventura County was the first county in the state to implement the new funding provisions of SB 1342 allowing increased recording fees for real estate fraud investigation and prosecution. This new authorization has stabilized funding for the Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Unit. I want to thank you for helping me and other prosecutors champion this proposal before the California Legislature.

• DUI Grant – For the third year in a row, the California Office of Traffic Safety has strongly encouraged the office to apply for the Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol grant. This grant will again offset the cost of two experienced deputy district attorneys assigned to alcohol and drug impaired driving prosecutions.

• Consumer and Environmental Protection –
California law charges us with consumer and environmental protection responsibilities, and we continue to do all we can to protect consumers and the environment from unscrupulous businesses and maintain competitive free markets.

As an example, last year we led a 40 jurisdiction investigation and civil action against a Fortune 100 company for the unlawful storage, handling and disposal of hazardous materials. This effort resulted in a $13.75 million judgment in Ventura Superior Court against the company and a significant improvement in their handling of hazardous materials.

We also face some challenges in the coming year:
• Domestic violence cases continue to be a major workload issue that pose some unique difficulties that I will return to in a moment in the context of a program we are exploring.

• Human trafficking is a modern day slavery where men, women, and children are exploited in terrible ways by predators seeking profit and personal gratification. Los Angeles has been identified as a high intensity city by the FBI and we know that no community is immune from this type of crime. So we are engaged with our law enforcement and community partners to develop a comprehensive plan to address it.

• With the rapidly expanding power and reach of the Internet, child pornography has become one of the fastest growing crimes in America. In 2012, in the Los Angeles region alone, there were more than 1300 reports. Because these images can be shared over and over, the victimization of the child continues long after the initial photograph or video is taken. We also know that those who possess child pornography are often engaged in actual hands-on child molestation.

Consequently, the multi-agency High Tech Task Force is stepping up efforts using very powerful software tools to go after these predators. Additionally, I am sponsoring a bill carried by Senator Pavley, SB 145, to increase penalties for certain types of aggravated child pornography possession.

• Family Justice Center – Now let me return to the issue of domestic violence. From a workload perspective, 48 percent of the crime victims we serve are victims of family violence. These cases are particularly difficult as more than 60 percent of these victims will recant following charges being filed.

We also know that when children witness violence in the home it affects their development, their relationships, and indeed their future. Family violence victims also have vital needs that include immediate medical treatment, civil legal assistance with restraining orders, child custody and dissolution issues, emergency housing, immigration, and basic social services.

To improve service to crime victims we are exploring grant funding opportunities to develop a fully functioning Family Justice Center in Ventura County – a place where public agencies and community-based organizations like Interface and The Coalition for Family Harmony can meet the victim where they are by offering all of these services in a single location.

• Realignment and parole hearings – Realignment remains by far the biggest challenge facing our criminal justice system today. The shift of inmates from state prisons to local jails and local supervision, with the stated goal of increasing supervision and decreasing recidivism, represents a profound change to the criminal justice landscape. Most criminologists and public policy experts have aptly characterized Realignment as an “experiment.”

It is important to acknowledge that before Realignment, the criminal justice system in California experienced unprecedented success in reducing crime rates. The violent crime rate in California has dropped by more than 60 percent in the past 20 years and stands at a level not seen since the 1960s. With that backdrop, it cannot be said that the criminal justice policies of the past 20 years have failed. Quite the opposite – Californians are safer now than at any time in the past half century.

But the criminal justice policies of the past 20 years have proven to be costly. The challenge now with Realignment is to continue to drive down the crime rate while also reducing costs. This is no easy task. Efforts to reduce recidivism with appropriate alternatives to incarceration must be evidence-based and data driven. To this end, our local agencies on the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) Board have agreed that as we move forward it is imperative that we carefully monitor programs, the delivery of services, and the relative success rates in changing behavior and recidivism among offenders. We must have reliable data that allows us to critically evaluate these success rates and the overall costs/benefits of Realignment.

As you know, Realignment has placed tremendous demands on Ventura County and those demands will only continue to grow. Beginning July 1, 2013, the state will cease to handle parole violation hearings and our prosecutors will assume responsibility for revocation hearings. Deputy public defenders will represent the violators in nearly every instance. Last year, there were approximately 1,100 revocation hearings involving Ventura County parolees. This translates into a clear increase in workload for the courts, our custody facilities, behavioral health, probation, prosecutors, and defense counsel.

As always, we are most successful when we are united in facing these challenges. Together with other members of the CCP, I can assure you that we are committed to cooperatively doing all that we can to safeguard our community while implementing Realignment locally. At the same time, we must have the data to provide your Board and the public with frank assessments of Realignment.

I want to thank you again for your continuing support. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.