Priorities for San Diego County
Fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors in San Diego County. San Diego along with most large cities in United States, has children, women and men who fall prey to organized crime, gangs and criminals who use them for sexual or labor exploitation. Most commonly, young girls are being used for prostitution. These girls (and boys) are sexually and physically abused, beaten, malnourished, and diseased. Labor exploitation is also prevalent, and is most often seen in the hospitality and janitorial service industries. Social media has made it easy for traffickers to reach into our kids’ bedrooms, and to recruit and prey upon young victims. Under my leadership as Chief Deputy DA for the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division, we pioneered a specialized prosecution team to hold traffickers accountable and to treat victims with dignity and provide them with the right resources. We led the way in bringing together a Human Trafficking Task Force that works day and night on finding victims, and capturing and prosecuting traffickers. We also created systems for prevention, protection and building community partnerships to combat this scourge. We launched the award winning “TheUglyTruthSD” public awareness campaign that educated teachers, nurses, students and hotel staff on human trafficking warning signs and tripled the reporting of these crimes. Sex Trafficking is largely run by gang members at 810 million dollars annually, it is the second largest criminal industry. We must step up our efforts for a long term fight leveraging the most advanced cyber intelligence tools and multiplying the eyes and ears in the community through education and awareness. This is a fight for our very dignity and one that we must win.
Fight Domestic Violence: Domestic Violence homicides have not decreased. Every year mostly women and some men are physically abused by their domestic partner and in too many cases the end result is murder. This abuse not only affects direct victims but traumatizes children who witness this violence and all too often creates another generation of abusers and victims. We need to fight domestic violence with the similar multi-disciplinary model that we are effectively using to combat human trafficking. For example, through evidence-based practices we now know that abuse by strangulation is a key risk marker to future acts of horrific violence, often leading to murder. Accordingly, law enforcement, prosecutors and medical professionals are trained to detect and document signs of abuse so we can better protect victims and hold these abusers to account. Smart prosecution requires reflection and incorporating new data and analysis to do things better, so that one more mother is saved and one more child doesn’t have to experience the trauma of abuse.
Fight Sexual Assault and Abuse of Children and Adults: In prosecuting rape and child molest cases, I witnessed the devastation that those crimes cause not just to the physical well-being of the victim, but to the very soul and dignity of the individual. In most cases, the molester or rapist is not a stranger but someone in the victim’s trust-circle: a fellow college student, a step-father, uncle, teacher, coach, or priest. Unlike crimes involving a stranger, these victims have to live with the abuser or encounter the person frequently. And rapists and molesters often strike again and again. Like scorpions, they continue to sting until stopped. I served as one of two prosecutor-experts in California to work on a Sex Offenders and Sexually Violent Predators task force that created statewide policies to protect the community. Recognizing the needs of these unique victims, I pioneered the concept of a Special Victims Unit in San Diego which holds sex offenders accountable, treats these vulnerable victims with dignity and respect, and promulgates policies to protect the community at large. This must remain a top priority of the DA’s office.
Fight Elder Abuse: We must make the protection of our elderly a top priority. Criminals prey on the elderly due to physical, cognitive and other issues that make the elderly particularly vulnerable to the unscrupulous. Too many times we have seen their life savings stolen by con artists and sometimes by those posing as caretakers. And they are subject to physical abuse and lack of care as a result of criminal neglect and abuse. Educating service providers that Senior rely on, such as banks, medical professionals, and senior centers about detecting warning signs and reporting suspected economic fraud and abuse is critical. So, too, is devoting critical resources to the best in the DA’s office to prosecute offenders. What defines us as a society is how we treat our most vulnerable, who often are our children and seniors. That will also define the DA’s office.
Protect our schools and community from threats of targeted violence by domestic or foreign terrorists by leveraging cyber technology and enhancing communication among law enforcement partners, schools and community at large. Having personally prosecuted the last school shooting case in our county, I know the terror and destruction that these mass shootings cause to the entire community. I also know that in my case and most documented cases such as Virginia Tech and others, that the red flags and threats are communicated ahead of time using social media or through the shooter’s circle. This provides an opportunity to intervene and interrupt an attack. I plan on establishing a permanent multi-disciplinary Cyber Threats Task Force that leverages the tech power of the CATCH, FBI, Sheriff, DA, Mental Health, Schools and other partners to get to the source of the threats, assess the level of threat and interrupt and intervene before harm is inflicted. In addition, we would educate the public through a concerted awareness campaign about their role in reporting suspicious activity on the web or in person so that if they see or hear something, they say something.
Invest in smart juvenile justice programs that prevent our kids from joining gangs and becoming hardened criminals. I’m committed to working with our schools and juvenile justice partners to implement evidence based programs that reduce truancy which is most often the first sign of a child or teen using drugs and alcohol, joining a gang, committing or becoming a victim of a crime. This priority of early investment in kids is the moral and ethical thing to do for our children and happens to also be the fiscally responsible path as it is much cheaper to invest in kids early rather than the high costs to society of crime and incarceration.
Invest in effective criminal justice programs that promote rehabilitation of offenders who have not committed serious or violent offenses such as Veterans Court and Behavioral Health Court. A large category of criminal behavior is as a result of drug and alcohol addictions, or mental health issues. I served for 5 years as Chief of the North County Branch, the largest branch serving 1 million of our San Diego County population, home to the largest number of military personnel I saw Veterans of OIF and OEF that found themselves on the other side of the law with their conduct related to trauma and other conditions as a result of their heroic service. Working with one of my prosecutors who was himself a Marine Corps OIF veteran, we implemented the first Veterans Treatment Court in North County and witnessed the successes of rehabilitating this special population and reintegrating them with their families and community. Many features of this successful model should be expanded to other offenders that suffer from mental health issues related to childhood trauma, parental neglect or organic mental disease. The root causes of their criminality needs to be addressed so that we can have a win-win of helping them regain their lives and preventing them from victimizing others.
Remaining vigilant to integrity in prosecution in order to promote a fair and impartial criminal justice system. Convicting those who harm others and violate the law is an important responsibility of the DA’s office. However, this responsibility must be carried out with absolute integrity and abidance to the constitutional rights of the accused. Prosecutors must uphold the highest principles of truth and ethics. I’m committed to continuous education, training and leadership that fosters these principles. I’m also committed to supporting a Conviction Review Unit that is open minded to review cases where there is a claim that the person convicted is innocent in order to guard against mistakes. While the San Diego DA’s office is built on a foundation of ethics and continuous training in ethics, we must never be complacent or arrogant in not accepting that where humans are involved mistakes can happen and its incumbent on us to create just systems by which any such mistakes can be corrected.
Enhance victim services by expanding the training and education of the DA’s victim services team to include crisis intervention so that our team which is the largest victim service provider for the county can be ready to support the community in times of crisis. One of my priorities is to better support victims of crime by establishing partnerships that help victims receive services more efficiently in a one stop shop such as a Family Justice Center or a Child Advocacy Center as may be the most suitable. The DA’s office must go beyond getting justice for a victim through a conviction but to also support and protect the victim by leveraging grants and other resources to prevent homelessness or lack of medical care for the victim. Victims of domestic violence, human trafficking or child molest can become destitute and homeless as they depend on their abuser for sustenance. We need to take a holistic approach through our victim services to leverage resources to sustain the victim’s well-being beyond the courtroom success.