Community involvement key in new programs

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Steve North has a vision for the 9th Judicial District, one he hopes to bring to fruition soon with the implementation of several new programs in Curry and Roosevelt counties. As the new director of the community prosecution initiative for the district attorney’s office, North is working to bring together community members and agencies to attack crime in the community.

“Getting the community involved is the whole key. Law enforcement can’t do it by themselves. We have to all come together,” he said.
Brought in under contract, North said it is his role to gear up the community to take a proactive, preventative approach to crime.

“We’re going to clean up this entire community,” he said. “We’re hoping to make a really big impact.”

Cleaning up and abating graffiti, reducing truancy, increasing senior citizen safety, cutting out Internet predation against children and stopping drug manufacturing are some of the starting points for the program, North said.

The concepts being developed are not new but are now jelling under North’s guidance as a comprehensive plan.

District Attorney Matt Chandler announced some of the programs, such as Meth-Watch and Abolish Chronic Truancy (A.C.T.) as part of his campaign platform in the 2002 election.

Meth-Watch, a program designed to curb the use of legitimate products for drug manufacturing, was launched in the area in 2005.

Ensuring Children’s Online Protection (E.C.O.P.), an educational program directed toward protecting children from Internet predators, began last year. Next to be kicked off will be a senior citizen crime prevention effort called The Newman Project, a program named for Portales homicide victims Odis and Doris Newman.

In the next month The Newman Project will be introduced in Roosevelt County and later in Curry County, North said. Safety inspections of senior citizens’ homes will be conducted, and smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, security lights and other items designed to increase senior safety will be installed, he said. Additionally, information will be made available to address safety concerns, fraud protection and more, he said.

Public agencies and community members pooling resources is what will be needed to make the programs a success, North said.

“We know we can’t do it on our own. It’s going to take us all to really make a long-term impact,” he said.

He encouraged public input, citing an open-door policy. “I’m trying to get a feeling for what really concerns people,” he said.

Community prosecution programs were created in large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, Chandler said, and have been successful in reducing crime and delinquencies.

“We don’t have large city problems and that’s clear,” he said. “However if a program such as A.C.T. is working in L.A. County and they’re seeing delinquency drops through it, (we can too). When it’s working on a large scale if we can take a small piece of that and bring it to Curry and Roosevelt counties and if we can see a portion of the results, then we’ve bettered our community,” Chandler said.

“In the long term, our goal is to eliminate crime. “If it works in New York City, it will most likely work in the 9th Judicial District.”

Chandler said he believes crime can be reduced through education and by bridging the gap between law enforcement and community residents. While much of the funding for the programs is drawn from multiple grants, Chandler said, the costs are minimal.

“One of the wonderful things about community prosecution is it doesn’t cost money to build relationships. It takes effort and the community and law enforcement working together, but it doesn’t cost a nickel and if we can eliminate crime that does save this district money and resources.”

A sampling of some of the programs being initiated under the community prosecution program:

• Ensuring Children’s Online Protection (E.C.O.P.)

An education-based program initiated last year by the district attorney’s office, E.C.O.P. is designed to inform parents, teachers and children about the dangers of Internet predators. Presentations have been made to schools and in public forums, and the district attorney’s office provides free Internet monitoring software to parents to help them monitor their children’s online communications.
Source — Matt Chandler, 9th Judicial District Attorney

• Meth-Watch

An awareness program designed to curb the suspicious sale or theft of ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamines. The goal of the program is to promote cooperation between retailers and law enforcement to prevent the illegal use of legitimate products.
Source — www.methwatch.com

• The Newman Project

A program to assist the elderly identify and address safety and security issues in an effort to keep them from becoming victims of crime. Fraud protection and home safety and security are some of the angles the program will approach. Initially the program will launch in Roosevelt County and later in Curry County. It was created in honor of homicide victims Odis and Doris Newman.
Source — Matt Chandler, 9th Judicial District Attorney

• Abolish Chronic Truancy (A.C.T.)

Designed to combat truancy before it becomes ingrained. The focus is on parental accountability for children’s education, not punishment of parents or students. Implementation in the 9th Judicial District will be a three-tiered program involving law enforcement officers, school officials and parents, and will extend to elementary, junior high and high school students.
Source — www.nal.usda.gov/pavnet/ye/yeaboltr.htm

E-mail the Community Prosecution Program with thoughts, suggestions or questions: 9thDA@da.state.nm.us