By David Irvin
New District Attorney Matt Chandler didn’t waste any time laying out his plans as the chief prosecutor in the 9th Judicial District on Monday after being sworn into office at the Curry County courthouse.
He laid out an aggressive plan to curb crime and violence in the Clovis community, emphasizing programs he hopes will reduce methamphetamine production, gang activity, student truancy and repeat offenders.
“The bottom line of our mission is to make this district a safe haven, not for gangs, drugs or violence, but a safe haven for our families,” he said.
He proposed a program called meth-watch that would educate local retailers on what ingredients may be used to produce methamphetamine. It would also allow retailers to work closely with law enforcement agencies when a subject is spotted trying to purchase those ingredients, he said.
“We will back them up if they refuse to sell the items, and if the person insists on buying them, (merchants) will have a direct hotline to law enforcement agencies to report the description of the person,” Chandler said.
Sheriff Roger Hatcher said the methamphetamine problem here and around the country has reached epidemic levels.
“It will kill them sooner or later if they keep using it,” he said.
Chandler said he believes methamphetamine production can be decreased if the ingredients needed to make the drug can be reduced in the community.
He also addressed what he said is a growing gang problem, and said law enforcement will have to be more aggressive on the streets to get the problem under control.
“We’ve been very reactive over the past couple of years, and that’s when gangs get the upper hand,” Chandler said. “If we can’t break them up on the streets, we’ll do everything we can to put them in jail.”
Clovis police Capt. Dan Blair said officers have been more proactive in going after the gang problem in the past three weeks, putting more officers on the street and trying to enforce the law when the law is broken.
“We know that some of those homicides are gang related,” he said. “We have some officers we have designated where they come in and just work gang problems and any other problems associated with it.”
Chandler said his office will be prosecuting 10 homicide trials in the first five months of next year, a task that will take extensive preparation and a strong team effort from office attorneys.
“I have already begun to look at the files on the different homicides,” he said. “These cases have been continued long enough, and it’s time to take them to trial. We are starting to work on every one of those (cases) as we speak.”
He proposed a program called ACT (Abolish Chronic Truancy) that he said would be a pro-active approach to curb truancy at every level of the school system.
“It is a program that teaches the importance of respecting their peers, staying in school … and how to be beneficial to the community we live in,” Chandler said. “We are going to do everything we can to encourage and keep kids in school and off the street.”
To deal with the problem of repeat offenders, he proposed a tough new plan called ROPE (Repeat Offender Program Enforcement). He said the program has succeeded elsewhere because it combines the efforts of the adult probation office, police and sheriff departments and district attorney’s office to target the top 10 percent of repeat offenders. When they are caught committing a crime, the targeted group is shown no leniency in the prosecution of their case.
“If they have proven that they cannot function in society without committing crime after crime after crime, well, it’s time to put them out of society for awhile,” he said.