By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor – December 13, 2013
The man tasked with overseeing the prosecution of all adult misdemeanors in Long Beach is looking to keep his job.
“We have accomplished a lot in these three-and-a-half years, but there is more to do,” City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said. “That is why I’m seeking a second term.”
Unlike the city attorney’s office which handles civil cases and represents the city, Doug Haubert’s office is in charge of prosecuting a range of criminal misdemeanors from battery, theft and vandalism to drug possession, cruelty to animals and code enforcement. Domestic violence cases are some of the most challenging his office handles, because they are emotionally charged.
If re-elected, Haubert also may play a part in drafting a new ordinance on medical marijuana.
“When the dust settles, California will have some type of regulatory device that allows cities in a controlled environment, permit dispensaries,” he said. “And, I believe that is the way Long Beach will go, and when that happens I will enforce the law at that point.”
Haubert believes that the programs he has helped put together in his time in office have made a difference in the city. In his first term, his office has created a gang prevention strategy that includes an aggressive gang suppression program but also includes intervention programs “because we know that gang suppression by itself will never solve our problems,” he said.
The strategy consists of three parts.
The first part is suppression. The city targets active gang members and leaders, many of which are served an injunction, a court-issued restraining order prohibiting gang members from participating in certain activities. He said violent crime in the city has dropped 15 percent below 2012, so far in 2013.
“The FBI’s Gang Threat Assessment says that 48 percent of all violent crime is gang related, so we have increased our gang prosecution effort,” Haubert wrote in an email. “We have increased prosecution of gang members 760 percent in just 4 years. We are seeing the fruits of that effort by enjoying our lowest year of violent crime ever.”
The second part is intervention. Together with the Long Beach Unified School District, the prosecutor’s office created the Parent Accountability and Chronic Truancy, or PACT, Program. The program notifies parents when their children miss school. If the children miss 10 percent or more in the school year without any excuse, parents can be prosecuted. Parents aren’t prosecuted right away. Instead, parental meetings and interventions take place to make sure children attend school. So, charges against parents are rare, he said.
“Attendance dramatically improves once we meet with the parents,” Haubert said. “So, the goal is not to prosecute any parents….. In our first year, those who were referred to us by LBUSD had missed an average of 20 percent of their classes at time of referral. After our program, that average dropped to 6 percent. ”
The city prosecutor’s office also participates in a program for fifth-grade students at Edison Elementary, a school in an at risk neighborhood. The program, called Project Legal Enrichment and Decision-Making, or LEAD, is a 20-week law-related class that aims to reduce the likelihood of the children joining gangs by helping them recognize the social and legal consequences of criminal behavior. The lessons consist of instruction on the criminal justice system and an analytical approach to solving student-acted hypotheticals involving drug use, gang involvement, theft, hate crimes, driving under the influence, truancy, graffiti, and other issues. Prosecutors are some of the outside speakers, who are invited to present their perspective on the day’s lesson and their role within the criminal justice system. The program culminates in a mock trial put on by the students.
The third approach is rehabilitation. The city prosecutor’s office actively looks for people who want to leave a gang to help them out. The office, in partnership with the Long Beach Alliance of Ministers, Centro CHA and other community organizations, has created Operation Opt Out, where people who had been served on a gang injunction, who no longer are involved with gangs can be removed from the injunction.
“By creating this pathway off the injunction, in some family situations, we’ve created hope for turning around their life and we’ve given them an incentive to leave the gang,” he said.
All of these programs came at a time when the city prosecutor’s office has had to do more with less, Haubert said. In the past five years the office has lost a third of its prosecutors. Five years ago, the office had 21 prosecutors, now it has 14 prosecutors handling about 14,000 case per year — or, about 1,000 cases per prosecutor.
“We do it because we believe that in the long run, the intervention efforts and the rehabilitation efforts will reduce crime,” he said. “One thing I didn’t expect was to have to deal with shrinking resources every single year.”
The prosecutor has overcome those challenge by expanding the community service worker program, a diversion program where low-level, first-time offenders are diverted out of the court system and are allowed to do community service. Community service includes cleaning out trash, alley clean-up, tree planting, graffiti abatement. Upon completion of community service, no case gets filed in court.
“That program has saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, both in not having pursue the case, not having to spend the resources to take the cases to court, but also in helping the city clean up workers get far more completed,” he said. “This saves taxpayers probably a quarter of a million to a half a million dollars each year.”
Haubert also started a volunteer prosecutor program, where lawyers volunteer in the office for four months on a full-time basis. Volunteer prosecutors are trained in trial work, evidence code and presenting cases to a judge during that time.
“That program has essentially given us more workers on a volunteer basis to help supplement what’s been cut by the city’s budget crisis,” he said. “What I’m known for is innovation…. Most people are surprised at what I’ve been able to accomplish with reduced resources.”
If re-elected, Haubert wants more to look at instituting more diversion programs.
“We need more programs where people can get substance abuse help, job training, counseling, instead of being sentenced to jail for crimes that could be prevented,” he said. “We are not talking about hardened criminals, who really do need to be locked up for as long as possible. I’m talking about those who can learn from their mistakes and become better people.”
Another area Haubert says he wants to work on is the roots of homelessness in Long Beach, such as mental illness and/or drug and alcohol addiction.
“Simply arresting them gets them off the street temporarily but they end up right back on the street the next day,” he said.
To do all of this he must first be re-elected. So far, he’s been endorsed by District Attorney Jackie Lacey, former District Attorney Steve Cooley, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, the Long Beach Police Officers Association, among other leaders.
He believes he is the best candidate for the job because he has the most experience, not just as a city prosecutor but in different areas of law.
“I’ve worked in the public sector and in the private sector,” Haubert said. “And, I have a wide background in a number of legal areas…. Though this particular job involves criminal prosecution, the fact that I have a lot experience with land use, zoning, planning, police and other areas of municipal law, has made me a better prosecutor.”