Last Tuesday the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office became the first prosecutor's office in the country to fully implement a theory and practice of law enforcement that has become known as community prosecution.
Traditionally, local prosecutors' offices have been organized according to type of crime -- i.e., homicide, sex offenses, narcotics, felonies and misdemeanors. Under community prosecution, however, prosecutors are assigned by neighborhoods and by schools.
In Montgomery, all prosecutors and support personnel will be assigned to five teams corresponding to the county's five police districts -- Bethesda, Silver Spring, Germantown, Rockville and Wheaton-Glenmont.
Under community prosecution, prosecutors will become intimate with their "turf," its police officers, business leaders, civic and community groups, faith-based organizations, government agencies and above all, its hardened criminals. Prosecutors will be assigned to every school to work with teachers and administrators identifying problems before they explode, and they will attend community meetings. Every Montgomery resident will be able to get in touch with his or her local prosecutor.
Crimes requiring specialized prosecution -- such as domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse -- will be better handled by the family violence unit of the prosecutor's office now because of increased familiarity with the history of particular troubled homes in a district.
Community prosecution complements community policing. Prosecutors will attend police roll calls to share information and provide advice on investigations, legal issues and police training. Just as the community police officer knows the violent and repeat offenders on his or her beat, now the community prosecutor will know them as well.
Linking prosecutors with schools will help identify at-risk students who may be associated with loose-knit gangs or have a propensity for violence. Prosecutors then can work with school administrators and other government agencies to take action before disaster strikes. When criminals are sentenced, prosecutors will solicit help from the community in preparing community-impact statements to present to judges.
In conjunction with the new community prosecution, the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office will pursue the so-called broken windows approach to crime by prosecuting quality-of-life crimes such as vandalism and graffiti that often lead to more serious crime. For people who repeatedly commit "minor" offenses, prosecutors will seek short periods of incarceration to send the strong message that the community will insist upon the rigorous enforcement of its laws.
Where community prosecution has been implemented, crime has fallen. The District is a prime example. Under the leadership of then-U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr., the 5th District, the only one of the District's seven police districts dedicated to community prosecution, saw calls for police service fall from the second highest in the city to fifth in just two years. President Clinton has recognized the effectiveness of community prosecution by including $200 million in his proposed budget to be dedicated to its implementation in communities across the United States.
By working with the community, building public trust and creating unprecedented access to our office through community prosecution, Montgomery County soon will be a less attractive target for criminals.
-- Douglas F. Gansler
is state's attorney
for Montgomery County.