Prince George's prosecutor moves quickly to make changes

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 1, 2011; 11:55 PM

Angela Alsobrooks heard a consistent message as she crossed Prince George's County during her campaign for the state's attorney's office: We want you to deal with violent offenders, but what we really care about are car break-ins, vandalism and burglaries.

Now Alsobrooks, who is to be sworn in to the post Monday, says she will increase the office's emphasis on such crimes, which affect thousands of residents for whom gangs, the drug trade and violent crime may seem distant.

"These are crimes that cause people to feel uncomfortable in their neighborhoods," Alsobrooks said in an interview. "We're going to focus on quality-of-life crimes."

To do so, she said, she plans a reorganization of the office, which has 70 prosecutors and dozens of support staffers.

She plans to initiate "community prosecutions" by assigning prosecutors to each of the county's five police districts. In addition to their courtroom duties, she said, these prosecutors will reach out to residents, learn about crime trends and use social services and job training to help those who need it.

She intends to try some cases herself - and drop in on trials to monitor her prosecutors, which Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. applauds. "You can't lead from the back of the room," he said. "You have to lead from the front."

The job is a challenging one. County prosecutors typically handle 9,500 new Circuit Court cases - primarily felonies, such as murders, serious assaults, rapes and robberies - annually. In juvenile court, prosecutors take on about 2,000 new cases a year involving offenses ranging from auto theft to serious assaults and, occasionally, murder.

Alsobrooks is taking over at a time when law enforcement in the county is contending with damaging revelations and perceptions that can complicate prosecutors' jobs.

In November, federal agents arrested two county officers in connection with a larger federal corruption probe in Prince George's. Former county executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie, were arrested by the FBI as part of that investigation on charges of tampering with evidence and destruction of evidence. The officers were charged with guarding shipments of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol. A third officer was arrested on cocaine trafficking charges.

Also in November, former police chief Roberto L. Hylton said 46 county officers were either suspended or assigned to administrative duties for violating police rules or allegedly committing crimes. Those issues influence some county jurors.

Alsobrooks must win back the public's confidence while holding officers accountable for criminal misconduct and maintaining a working relationship with the police department. She is confident she can. "There is a need to partner with the police department," she said.

When it comes to police misconduct, Alsobrooks said, "We just won't tolerate criminal conduct, no matter who commits it.

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