Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday that he had doubled the number of neighborhood prosecutors since taking office -- and would be adding even more lawyers to focus on graffiti, blight and other local quality-of-life concerns after city leaders boosted the budget for the program.
In the past, the program shrank as city budgets took a hit. When Feuer took office, the number of neighborhood prosecutors was eight. During his campaign for city attorney, Feuer had pledged to double the number. Now, 16 prosecutors are now working for the program, including attorneys who speak Spanish, Korean, Armenian and Russian, Feuer said Monday, flanked by the attorneys.
Feuer described the neighborhood prosecutors are being "deeply embedded" in local communities. Beyond getting cases from the police, as traditional prosecutors typically do, neighborhood prosecutors discuss important issues at homeowners meetings, school functions and other local events, he said.
"They're aggressively reaching out to neighborhoods when there's been no arrest done, there's no police report on file," Feuer said. The city attorney said neighborhood prosecutors would be proactively asking, "What do you care about the most? And how can we team up to solve those problems?"
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition in South L.A., said the program "makes a big difference for us in many ways," particularly when it comes to battling blight.
In the past, "there wasn't anybody to deal with that," Harris-Dawson said. "The neighborhood prosecutor program was a way to make that happen."
Such attorneys do not just take alleged offenders to court, but also seek other solutions for local problems, teaming up with the mental health system, homeowners groups and other community partners, Feuer said. Gita O'Neill, who supervises the citywide program and used to work as a neighborhood prosecutor herself, offered the example of helping a homeless woman near Venice Beach find a place to live.
"We try and do a whole, rounded solution to all the problems in this city," O'Neill said.
Feuer plans to start introducing the attorneys to their neighborhoods at community meetings beginning this week. With the help of added funding, the program will soon expand to 21 neighborhood prosecutors -- enough to have one for every police division in L.A., the city attorney said.
The total amount budgeted for the neighborhood prosecutors next fiscal year is roughly $2.5 million, according to his spokesman, Rob Wilcox.