Sonoma County district attorney forms neighborhood outreach program

Esther Lemus, a Sonoma County deputy district attorney with deep roots in southwest Santa Rosa, has been appointed to lead a community outreach program focused on preventing and solving neighborhood problems.

Lemus, named "Safe Neighborhoods D.A.," will teach existing gang prevention classes alongside Santa Rosa police officers, coordinate a youth gun information program and attend public meetings to hear neighborhood crime concerns.

Lemus said it's a job she's dreamed of since joining the office in 2007. Until recently, there wasn't enough money in the department budget for it.

"I care about the community," said Lemus, who graduated from Montgomery High School before going to UC Berkeley and UCLA law school. "I've always been committed to our community and committed to our youth."

Lemus is also a member of the Santa Rosa Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force and has been involved in Roseland's annual Cinco de Mayo and Cesar Chavez events.

Before joining the District Attorney's Office she was an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Bay Area and Southern California, worked in private practice and was a law clerk for a bankruptcy judge.

She said the new position, generically known as community prosecutor, will be modeled on similar programs elsewhere across the country.

It could borrow ideas from places like Portland, Ore., where officials sought to eliminate loitering and drug-dealing in a park. The problem was solved by changing the sprinkler timing to make the park less attractive to people who might commit crimes, Lemus said.

Other efforts to make public places safer could include adding lighting or trimming overgrown bushes, she said. The scope of the program is countywide.

"The possibilities are endless," Lemus said. "It's going to be driven by community need."

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