Tucson Police and Prosecutors Advance Fight Against Sexual Assault

No means no

Continuing the fight against sexual assault in our community, the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney’s Office have received a $1 million grant to help process a backlog of 1,200 previously untested rape kits. The grant has already enabled TPD to test 400 kits, allowing officials to connect 61 of those to a DNA profile in a national database. The first sexual assault case that has grown out of the grant program is the prosecution of Nathan Loebe, who was arrested in Kentucky and is now waiting to be extradited back to Tucson. Evidence from some of the rape kits recently tested with money from the new grant connects Mr. Loebe to nearly a dozen counts of sexual assault in Tucson dating back to 2002.

Struggling to prioritize sexual assault prosecutions

Sexual assault is a major problem in our community and at the national level. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Making it to adulthood is no guarantee of safety, though, as the NSVRC also estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Despite the severity of the problem of sexual violence, it remains a crime that is notoriously under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-punished. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network reports that only 11 out of every 1000 rapists will be referred for prosecution, versus 37 out of 1000 robbers and 105 out of 1000 non-sexual assailants.

sexual assault numbers

Here in Pima County, the disparity between rates of prosecution for sexual crimes and other types of offenses is particularly problematic. For far too long, we have refused to prioritize the prosecution of sexual assault and instead focused on prosecuting non-violent drug offenses. For 11 out of the last 15 fiscal years, the highest percentage of criminal cases the Pima County Attorney filed in Pima County Superior Court were drug cases.

Pima County drug and sex prosecutions

The Arizona Department of Corrections’ own data shows that, as of February 2017, the highest percentage of prisoners in the state – 22.1% – are behind bars for drug offenses. Only 1.3% of prisoners are being held for rape/sexual assault.

February 2017 DOC stats

New $1 million grant helps process TPD’s rape kit backlog

TPD’s crime lab is constantly busy processing evidence from thousands and thousands of criminal cases. According to Police Chief Chris Magnus, the new grant allows TPD to outsource the testing of 1,200 previously untested rape kits, which will help make the detection and prosecution of sexual assault in our community more effective.

It goes without saying that the prosecution of sex crimes should be a top priority of the criminal justice system. The trauma associated with sexual assault can last a lifetime, and lead to a host of difficulties.

Sexual assault survivor stats

Additionally, there is a powerful correlation between surviving sexual assault and later involvement in the criminal justice system. Nearly 50% of imprisoned women that researchers spoke to in one study reported they were abused as children, and 70 – 80% of sexual abuse survivors reported excessive drug and alcohol use later in life.

 Not only will testing old rape kits help bring justice to people who have already been sexually assaulted, it will also help prevent future assaults. Many sexual assailants are repeat offenders. In one study undertaken by researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Brown University School of Medicine, most undetected rapists researchers examined were repeat offenders; almost two-thirds of them raped more than once, and a majority also committed other acts of interpersonal violence, such as battery, child physical abuse, and child sexual abuse. Repeat rapists each committed an average of 6 rapes and/or attempted rapes, and an average of 14 interpersonally violent acts.

The Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney Office’s cooperation in securing the new grant is the kind of law enforcement that should be applauded and encouraged. The more our community steps away from imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and the more we focus on investigating and prosecuting violent crimes and sex crimes, the safer and more just Pima County will become.

– Joel Feinman

On Shooting A Man Then Shaming Him For Bleeding

blaming the victim for crime 1

Police bias vs. black-on-black crime

The subject of black-on-black crime inevitably arises during any debate about race and racial bias in the criminal justice system. One of its most vocal denouncers is Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City. On January 11, she participated in a debate entitled “Is Policing Racially Biased,” and stated that contemporary policing is data driven, and that patterns of policing today do not demonstrate police bias, because police simply go where the crime is. According to Ms. MacDonald, objective statistics show that crime is disproportionately a minority problem.

According to the Justice Department, Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That’s because Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined according to the Justice Department. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime, though they’re 15% of the population in those counties. These crime disparities are repeated in every big American city. Here in New York, Blacks commit 75% of all shootings, though they’re 23% of the population…whites commit 2% of all shootings, though they are 34% of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for 98% of all shootings in New York City. This means that virtually every time the cops are called out to a shooting scene, they’re being called to a minority neighborhood on behalf of minority victims and being given a description of a minority suspect. The cops don’t wish that disparity. It’s a reality forced upon them by the reality of crime.”

There are well-written and well-researched pieces, supported by data, arguing these statistics are “a dodge, it’s a smokescreen, it’s a red herring, it’s bullshit.” But behind the debate over whose statistics are correct lies the question of how much Ms. MacDonald and her fellow travelers actually care about the lives of Black people.

The truth may be that they don’t care very much. The people who protest black-on-black crime the loudest are precisely the same people who vehemently oppose social policies that mitigate the poverty and inequality that so often causes crime. When Ms. MacDonald is not talking about policing, she does not seem the least bit concerned with protecting or enhancing the well-being of African-Americans.

The inseparable illnesses of crime and poverty

Crime does not arise in a vacuum, and none but the most ardent racists believes that one ethnicity is predisposed to commit more crime than others. One of the factors that intuitively and empirically contributes to crime rates is poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published a special report which found that black and white households living in poverty were much more likely to be victims of crime, and were victims of crimes at similar rates. Poverty also tends to create criminals, as two Scottish researchers documented in a groundbreaking study which followed the lives of 4,300 children as they transitioned to adulthood.

Yet poverty is not colorblind. As of February 2015, 1 in 10 Asians and non-Hispanic whites lived below the federal poverty line ($24,600 per year for a family of four), compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic/Latinos, 1 in 3 Native Americans, and over 1 in 4 African-Americans. In absolute numbers, 42% of all poor people are non-Hispanic whites, yet they make up 62.6% of the overall U.S. population.

federal poverty line by ethnicity

Percentage of population by ethnicity living below the federal poverty line

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped in 35 states in the fourth quarter of 2016, the African-American unemployment rate exceeded the white unemployment rate in every state where Black unemployment rates could be computed. The Black unemployment rate was highest in Washington, D.C. at 13%, while the white unemployment rate was highest in West Virginia at 5.3%. That unemployment picture looks far more dire when we factor into it how many Black men are locked behind bars, and therefore cannot look for work.

black unemployment rate including prison

While there has long been a gulf in wealth between white Americans and people of color (white families have earned on average $2 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families have earned for the last 30 years), that gap has widened since the 2008 economic crises; by 2013 the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families. Redlining – the arbitrary denying or limiting of financial services to specific neighborhoods because the residents are people of color or poor – has afflicted communities of color for generations, with economically devastating results.

Decrying the disease but criticizing the cure

Heather MacDonald’s crime stats may or may not be correct, but what they do for certain is falsely insulate crime rates from the old, pernicious problem of race-based poverty that commentators like her either completely ignore or consciously obfuscate.

Ms. MacDonald never digs below the surface to ask why crime rates are so high among communities of color. Nor does she seem very interested in proposing solutions to the crime problem that do not involve additional policing. On the contrary, Ms. MacDonald has been a vocal critic of exactly the kind of social policies intended to alleviate the poverty and systemic inequality that gives birth to high crime rates.

In her 2001 book “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society,” Ms. MacDonald dismisses much of New York City’s social welfare programs as “progressive nonsense.” She has condemned putting day care centers in schools to simplify life for teenage mothers, and admitted that she has “always loathed” affirmative action. Ms. MacDonald has also criticized “out-of-wedlock births, particularly among blacks” as the real of cause poverty, and disdainfully asserted that school textbooks have been “revised in accordance with the multiculturalist agenda,” which presents “American history as a morality play whose primary theme is the oppression of virtuous ethnic minorities by a monolithic evil white majority.” She has displayed a startlingly ignorant, ethnocentric view of history by claiming, “The concept of an inclusive, tolerant society is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and of it alone.” Finally, she has called for limiting Hispanic immigration into the United States, which she views as the importation of an underclass with the potential to expand indefinitely,  and sought to disabuse sentimentalists who cling to “the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue.”

A painful and transparent insincerity

In his masterful work Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote,

Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence on language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel…The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Crime among and between African-Americans cannot be separated from centuries-old policies of racism and oppression, which set the stage and skewed the risers. When criminologists and commentators like Heather MacDonald address the crime problem, they make no attempt to contextualize it or even engage with its historical roots. But Ms. MacDonald uses buzz words to make it seem like her focus on black-on-back crime is motivated by altruism, as she did during her January 11 debate, when she stated, “According to the Justice Department, Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That, to me, is the civil rights issue that we should be most concerned about.”

This seems to be the very kind of linguistic violence that Ta-Nehisi Coates condemned. While Ms. MacDonald is more than happy to adopt the rhetoric of civil rights to defend American policing, she has consistently and vocally opposed social polices that would benefit the very crime victims she claims to champion. If Ms. MacDonald and other commentators of her ilk cared about the victims of black-on-black crime, or sincerely wanted to prevent such crime from occurring, they would champion school desegregation, oppose voter suppression, insist on investing in urban economic development, and demand radical reform to our failed health and child care systems. Instead Ms. MacDonald does the opposite. She condemns the black people who commit black-on-black crime, then actively opposes policies intended to alleviate the poverty and racism which breed that very criminality.  Ms. MacDonald isn’t just shaming the bleeding man; she is working to ensure an endless supply of blood-sotted shooting victims.

– Joel Feinman

Tucson Is Not Like Chicago – Solving Old Murders Helps Prevent New Ones

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In recent months President Trump has called for a new national initiative to reverse what he sees as a sharp increase in violent crime across the nation. On February 7, the President told a gathering of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the nation that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Two days later, in his first public comments made immediately after he was sworn in as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions stated, “We have a crime problem. I wish the blip — I wish the rise that we’re seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”

While violent crime is still at historic lows, murder rates are rising in some U.S. cities

Neither President Trump nor Attorney General Session’s assertions are borne out by objective facts or FBI crime data. The murder rate — defined as the number of murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 residents— went from a high of 10.2 in 1980 to 4.4 in 2014. The raw number of homicides in America has declined from 19,645 in 1996 to 15,696 in 2015, even while the population has risen from 265 million to 321 million during that same period.

US murder rate

Likewise, despite Attorney General Session’s assertions to the contrary, long-term US violent crime trends have been declining — not increasing— for years.

US crime rate

However, while overall national crime rates are still at historic lows, it is true that 2015 and 2016 have seen upticks. Violent crime ticked up roughly 4% from 2014 to 2015. The murder rate increased to 4.9 in 2015, and the Brennan Center for Justice has projected an additional 14% increase in our 30 largest cities when all of the 2016 numbers are in.

The recent spike in homicide rates is real, but it is also a highly localized problem. It is not the fictitious nation-wide trend decried by Attorney General Sessions. 2016’s 14% increase in the urban murder rate is mostly accounted for by two very specific murder spikes: one in Chicago and one in Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, Chicago’s murder increase will alone account for almost half of the overall 2016 urban murder increase. This invites two questions: what is wrong with Chicago, and how can we ensure Pima County doesn’t follow Chicago’s lead?

Chicago murder rate

U.S. and Chicago murder clearance rates drop

According to the Brennan Center, some reasons for the increasing violence in Chicago include, “falling police numbers, poverty and other forms of socioeconomic disadvantage, and gang violence.” One factor the Brennan Center gives less attention to, and which may go a long way towards explaining things, is the murder clearance rate.

In law enforcement, a murder case is “cleared” when a suspect is arrested, whatever the eventual judicial outcome may be. “Clearance rates” are a measure of what percentage of murders results in an arrest. For years, it was difficult for researchers and criminologists to accurately ascertain true clearance rates in big cities and small towns across the country. But in 2015 Thomas K. Hargrove, a retired investigative journalist and former White House correspondent, founded the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP). Hargrove created MAP to track unsolved homicides nationwide, using algorithms to study the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Every year Hargrove downloaded and crunched the most recent FBI data set, and was shocked by the number of murder cases that had never been cleared — 211,487 — more than a third of the homicides recorded from 1980 to 2010. Bloomberg Business week recently published a profile of Hargrove and his work, and explained how U.S. homicide clearance rates have been on a longtime downward trend.

US murder clearance rates

Disturbingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – murder clearance rates also appear to be plagued by the same racial and gender disparities that haunt the criminal justice system as a whole.

 Clearance rates by demographic

“If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings?”

How does all of this relate to what is wrong with Chicago? Well, as Bloomberg journalist Robert Kolker wrote in his profile of Thomas Hargrove and MAP, it seems intuitive that at least some murderers will kill again, and if so, low clearance rates will correlate with higher murder rates. Sure enough, Hargrove confirmed this when he analyzed information from 218 metropolitan jurisdictions in the 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report, and found that the homicide rate in low clearance rate cities was almost double the rate of high clearance rate cities — 9.6 homicides per 100,000 people versus 17.9. “It makes perfect sense,” Hargrove said. “If you leave the killers to walk the street, why wouldn’t that cause more killings? The answer is, it does.”

The data from Chicago supports this thesis. While the national murder clearance rate has held roughly steady since 2000, the Chicago rate has dropped precipitously.

Chicago murder clearance rate

Tucson is not like Chicago

In 2015 Chicago’s homicide total hit 472, and police cleared just 123 of those cases – a 26% clearance rate. Compare this to Pima County, where law enforcement cleared 37 of 48 homicides in 2015- a 77% clearance rate. Our police and Sheriff’s deputies also did a better job than their counterparts North of the Gila River; Maricopa County law enforcement cleared 127 out of 172 homicides in 2015 – a 74% clearance rate.

2015 clearance rates

It is important not to view improving murder clearance rates as a magical panacea. Violent crime in Chicago and other U.S. cities is undoubtedly exacerbated by the social factors the Brennan Center listed. However, Thomas Hargrove’s Murder Accountability Project has demonstrated a strong correlation between higher clearance rates and lower murder rates.

Obviously hiring more police officers, and ensuring they are well-trained and well-paid, would likely improve the situation in areas struck by the recent uptick in violent crime. But as criminologist Charles Wellford demonstrated in a study published in 2000, clearance rates also depend on how quickly detectives respond to a murder scene, how effectively they can cordon off the scene and interview potential witnesses, and whether detectives are given the leeway to chase leads in the hours immediately after a murder, even if that means paying them overtime. These may be important reasons why Tucson is not like Chicago. In the face of a new moral panic over a fictitious crime wave— created and stoked by our President and Attorney General— it is important to keep our criminal justice efforts focused on scientific, qualitative law enforcement, and it is important to be proud of Pima County for what it has been doing right.

– Joel Feinman

Pima Sheriff’s Home Detention Program protects & saves taxpayers $450,000

Pima County home detention program

For almost two years, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has been at the forefront of implementing a home detention program for low-level, non-violent offenders that has saved Pima County taxpayers $450,000 and counting.

422 enrollees; 0 escape attempts

Created in April, 2015, by India Davis and Corrections Lieutenant Elsa Navarro, the Sheriff’s Home Detention Program originally only applied to people convicted of misdemeanor DUIs. Recently the program has expanded to include people convicted of other misdemeanors and some low-level, non-dangerous felonies who have been sentenced to jail time, although alcohol-related convictions still compose the majority of the program. For years such people have been allowed out of jail during the day to go to work, but have been required to return to the jail each night as part of a program known as “work release” or “work furlough.” The Home Detention Program allows these people to spend nights in their home, while equipping them with a GPS ankle bracelet that constantly tracks their location. The GPS system is accurate to within 10 feet, and each bracelet emits a ping every 5 minutes to constantly inform the jail that enrollees are where they are supposed to be. The system can be adjusted to ping every 60 seconds if necessary, and the jail automatically gets an alarm if an enrollee attempts to tamper with the monitor or ventures within 5 miles of Pima County limits, a train station, airport, or any other exclusion zone that the jail can set, such as a victim’s house. 422 people have enrolled in the Home Detention Program since its inception, and there has not been a single attempt to escape or remove a GPS monitor. As part of the vetting process each enrollee is required to sign a Notice of Intent to Prosecute, informing them that any escape attempt will be prosecuted as a class 5 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

“A very stringent vetting process”

“We are very selective about who gets into the program,” interim Corrections Chief Sean Stewart told The Pima Liberator. “There is a very stringent vetting process, and we don’t want to set anyone up for failure.” As part of that process all potential enrollees are required to fill out an Inmate Interview sheet, where they must disclose all of their residence information, work information, vehicle information, and criminal history. They are also required to sign an Inmate Agreement that includes the following provisions:

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Home Detention Program inmate agreement provisions

Even after people are enrolled in the program and equipped with a GPS monitor, they are still required to report to the jail in person once a week for alcohol and drug testing.

Keeping the community safer

A key concern with work furlough and work release programs is that law enforcement cannot know for sure if a person is actually going to work when they are released from jail during the day. In one instance a person on furlough was released to go work, and jail personnel did not hear from them until they received a call from Border Patrol telling them that the same person was caught coming back from Mexico while attempting to smuggle a load of drugs in to the U.S. “Home detention is much safer for the community than work furlough or work release,” said Captain Stewart. “In this program the jail knows where you are at all times, and tells you where you can and cannot go.” The Home Detention Program is staffed by 5 Sheriff’s Sergeants who log into the system daily to make sure all enrollees are where they are supposed to be – a fail-safe backup to the system’s built-in, automatic notification software. One additional Pima County Sheriff’s Sergeant has the full-time assignment to monitor and evaluate all enrollees. According to Captain Stewart, Lieutenant Navarro, and Captain Darin Stephens – three corrections officers who oversee the Home Detention Program – they would like to see the program expanded to included people in jail awaiting trial. “The average Pima County jail stay is 10 days. No one should be in jail for 10 days; they should either be in jail until their trial or home,” said Captain Stewart. If someone has a job and is not a threat to their community “they should be allowed to keep working, support their kids, and pay their taxes.”

Effective and fiscally responsible law enforcement

daily-costs

Daily costs per inmate

Funding for both the Home Detention Program and the Pima County Jail comes from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department budget, which comes from the county general fund in the form of property tax revenue. The Pima County Jail costs taxpayers $89 per inmate per day, compared to the Home Detention Program which costs only $11 per inmate per day for GPS ankle monitoring, and $15 per inmate per day for GPS and alcohol monitoring. Thus the Home Detention Program costs taxpayers almost 500% less than jail time, which has translated to a saving of $450,000 in taxpayer money since the Program was created in 2015.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Home Detention Program is exactly the kind of forward-thinking, effective, and fiscally responsible law enforcement that we should be promoting and supporting. According to Captain Stewart, the Home Detention Program can only continue to succeed with judicial and community buy-in. Our prosecutors and judges need to make more people eligible for home detention. The only practical limit to the potential size of the program is the number of people in Pima County Jail – both awaiting trial and serving a sentence – who are not a danger to the community, and who should be out of jail working and contributing to society. For every tax dollar we spend on GPS home detention we save exponentially more dollars by not locking people up. We also increase the employment rate, decrease the number of people who need public assistance when they get out of jail, and prevent families from being torn apart by needless and unjust incarceration policies.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney RICO funds disappear then reappear, then spent on advertising & promotional items

Pima County Attorney RICO funds

A close analysis of public documents reveals serious questions about how the Pima County Attorney accounts for and spends RICO funds.

Under Arizona law “racketeering” is defined as a laundry list of criminal acts that are committed for financial gain. If the police seize a person’s property whom they suspect of committing a racketeering (or RICO) offense, that property can be forfeited and auctioned off, even if the person is never actually convicted of a crime. That is, innocent people who have never been suspected of committing a crime can – and do – lose their property to RICO forfeiture.

Recently Pima County’s RICO procedures were subject to FBI scrutiny, and in October the second in command of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department resigned after being indicted by the Department of Justice for misusing RICO funds.

What has been subject to far less scrutiny is the role the Pima County Attorney plays in determining how RICO money is spent. Under Arizona law, County Attorneys may distribute the RICO funds allocated to their county to whichever agencies they see fit. Though RICO laws were first written with the intention to fund gang, crime, and substance abuse prevention programs, in FY2015-2016 County Attorney LaWall only allocated 0.08% of available funds to these efforts.

RICO laws and forfeiture proceedings generate considerable amounts of money every year. According to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, which was created in 1982 by the Arizona legislature to monitor and report on RICO spending, the Pima County Attorney’s master RICO account contained more than $12.6 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2015 – 2016. Out of this sum, the County Attorney chose to give the Pima County Sheriff Department’s  “Financial Services Unit” more money than any other law enforcement agency received – $533,000.

Per the Sheriff’s Department, that is the unit responsible for budgeting and finance, not operations or investigations. To all other Sheriff’s Department units, Ms. LaWall allocated $0, while eight other Pima County law enforcement agencies – including the Pasqua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham Police Departments – also received $0. The Pima County Attorney did see fit to spend the second-largest sum of RICO dollars on her own office – $491,278.

(opening the below images in a new tab will magnify them and make them easier to read)

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Significantly, at a time when both law enforcement officers and line prosecutors are clamoring for long-delayed raises, former Sheriff Chris Nanos and current County Attorney Barbara LaWall simply banked hundreds of thousands of RICO dollars. At the end of FY2015 – 2016 Ms. LaWall chose to bank more than $500,000, instead of spending that money on crime prevention.

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This practice is not necessarily the norm in Arizona. In FY2015 – 2016, the Maricopa County Attorney spent every cent of their RICO money.

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Examining the Pima County Attorney’s RICO accounts over the last sixteen years reveals bigger problems than end-of-the-year surpluses. Between June 30 and July 1, 2005, almost $60,000 seems to have disappeared from the books. And while public documents reveal that the County Attorney had $438,524 in its account on June 30, 2011, the office reported that it didn’t have any money at all in its account on July 1, 2011. Indeed, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, the Pima County Attorney did not have one cent of RICO money from July 1, 2011, until January 1, 2012, when they suddenly reported a positive balance of $622,467.

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Finally, public databases reveal idiosyncrasies in the way Ms. LaWall spends RICO funds. Per the Arizona State Government’s General Accounting Office, in fiscal year 2015 – 2016 the County Attorney spent $4.6 million in RICO Special Revenue funds. This money went to expenses as varied as parking subsidies, advertising, and life insurance. Almost $13,000 went to “promotional items,” $14,000 went to “vacation payouts,” and $1.277 million was spent on “other miscellaneous charges.” The Pima County Attorney has never publicly defined “miscellaneous,” nor explained why such an opaque line item consumes such a large portion of the fund.

rico-summary

These documents make clear the critical need for a comprehensive audit of how the Pima County Attorney accounts for and spends RICO funds, a need made even more pressing by the recent FBI and Justice Department investigations into the matter. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is the sole distributor of county RICO funds, and as such must be held accountable for their use. It is important to remember that the original intention of the RICO laws was to fund gang, crime, and substance abuse prevention programs. While spending $13,000 on promotional items and $1.2 million on “miscellaneous charges” may not be prohibited by law, the Pima County Attorney’s primary responsibilities are to administer justice and prevent crime. Ms. LaWall has the capacity to use RICO funds to fulfill these responsibilities for the residents of Pima County, but there are troubling signs that justice is not being served as well as we need and deserve.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Law Enforcement emphasizes crisis intervention training

Mass incarceration in Arizona

Dozens of law enforcement officers from 8 different law enforcement agencies gathered in Tucson in December to participate in a week-long crisis intervention training course.

Trainings like these are an invaluable component of modern day law enforcement; they operate on the evidence-based premise that our community increasingly requires police to interact with people who are experiencing mental and behavioral health crises. In 2013, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Tucson Police Department founded a joint unit, the Mental Health Support Team (MHST), to help ensure that individuals with mental health illnesses receive treatment and support, instead of a term of incarceration that can often exacerbate mental health issues.

The MHST Team and multi-agency crisis intervention training are exactly the kinds of law enforcement efforts our community should support and seek to expand, given the intractable link between incarceration rates and and mental illness. Approximately 60% of the men and women at the Pima County jail have a need for mental health treatment, which makes our jail the largest provider of mental health care in Pima County. According to the Arizona Department of Correction, as of November 2016, 11,595 of DOC’s 42,567 total inmates required ongoing mental health service – over 27% of Arizona’s entire prison population.

– Joel Feinman