Prosecutions in Sonoma County down 12%

  • Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch

Fewer people faced prosecution in Sonoma County in the past year despite a reported uptick in certain kinds of crimes, possibly an indication that law enforcement is becoming more selective about expending resources in tough budget times.

During the one-year period ending Sept. 30, the District Attorney's Office filed 14,195 cases, down from 16,743 cases the year before. That's a decrease of more than 12 percent.

At the same time, the county's police agencies referred 21,360 cases to prosecutors for formal charging compared to 22,667 the year before — a reduction of nearly 6 percent.

Christine Cook, assistant district attorney, said the declines are due in part to cuts to the number of deputy prosecutors and police on the streets. She said her office is down 14 employees since 2009. The Sheriff's Office reports it lost 32 deputy positions in three years.

But Cook said the numbers also may reflect cost-saving efforts. Prosecutors are signing off on diversionary programs rather than charging minor crimes that take jail space.

If someone on probation for being drunk in public commits the same crime again, they'll be released on a violation of probation rather than being charged with a new crime, Cook said.

"I think it is safe to say we're trending toward more diversion," Cook said. "As a result of realignment we're considering how best to be efficient while seeking justice," a reference to the state's decision to send some offenders to county jurisdiction rather than to state prison or parole status.

Defense lawyers said prosecutors appear more careful about cases they pursue so they don't risk dismissals.

"They are definitely being more discriminating in what they file," Santa Rosa attorney Steve Turer said.

Cook said it was "tighter filing standards" and a focus on more pressing issues such as gang violence and elder protection under District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who was elected in 2010.

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