Huntington Beach to hire its own prosecutor


Huntington Beach is looking to crack down on misdemeanors and repeat offenders in the city by hiring a deputy community prosecutor.

Anaheim has been the only other city in Orange County with its own community prosecutor — in fact the home of Disneyland has nine. With this added staff, the city, which is larger than Huntington Beach — with almost 150,000 more people than the beach community’s nearly 200,000 — handles all of its misdemeanor cases.

The problem, according to Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates, is that the Orange County “district attorney simply does not have the resources to prosecute all of the crimes referred to its office,” meaning the problems often become the city’s again.


The position — to be budgeted at about $145,000 each year — was unanimously approved by the Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday, when Gates and Police Chief Robert Handy advocated for it to help manage upward-trending misdemeanor crimes.

“When I first came on two years ago, and working with police, it became really obvious that having more prosecution, especially targeting on some of our key issues, would be more effective,” Gates said Wednesday.

He said the idea was to focus on repeat offenders, to prevent them from reoffending, and crimes that seemed to be increasing, especially those having to do with drugs and alcohol.

Handy said that since the introduction of Proposition 47, passed by voters in November 2014 to reduce some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, many drug cases have become misdemeanors, and Huntington Beach is seeing more drug use among the homeless and others.

Of the more than 5,000 arrests last year, about 80% were misdemeanors, Gates said.

When misdemeanors are referred to the county, “the district attorney is not able to prosecute every one of those referrals,” Gates wrote in a city document.

The idea is intended not so much to assist the district attorney as to help the city put an end to repeat problems through more focused attention and creative problem solving, Gates and Handy said.

“The district attorney services the entire county, and this gives us the ability to focus on our repeat low-level offenders who are causing quality-of-life issues in our community,” said Handy, who previously worked in two cities — Phoenix and San Bernardino — that had their own prosecutors.

“We basically enhance our ability to hold them accountable and fix the problem.”

Handy said the penalties for the misdemeanors would not necessarily be increased under this method, but the Police Department and prosecutor could work together on solutions like stay-away orders, increased bail or sentencing to treatment rather than jail.

The Huntington Beach deputy community prosecutor would work in the city attorney’s office and communicate with the Police Department regularly to determine which cases he or she should take on.

The prosecutor would take on a “rolling average” of 50 to 100 cases at a time, depending on their complexity, Gates said. He said he expects the new person to handle about 1,000 cases annually.

All other misdemeanor and felony cases would continue to be sent to the district attorney’s office.

“We want to make sure there is an effective prosecution,” Gates said. “We want to make sure these [cases] are prosecuted and make sure they are not disposed of.”

Handy said another benefit to having a community prosecutor is that he or she will be able to get to know repeat offenders and perhaps get to the root of their problems.

“It’s more than just a record on paper and file,” he said. “When they are invested in solving a problem and involving the officers, it’s more than just filing a record. It provides more of a focus and enhanced level of attention.”

Gates said he will open the position later this week and expects it to be filled by mid-October.

Twitter: @BrittanyWoolsey