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21st century prosecutors strive for far more than convictions

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The prosecution function has come a long way in the last two decades across the country and here in Maricopa County. In my eight years of service as the county attorney, we have embraced change, employed technology, and engaged in a constant process of reviewing how we do our jobs to be more effective in carrying out our constitutional and statutory duties and responsibilities.

Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery

As a 21st century prosecution office, we have taken on the challenge of better engaging with the communities we serve to enhance understanding of our criminal justice system and forging invaluable partnerships to protect and strengthen the communities where we all live. Our eight community-based prosecution bureaus, each serving a specific area of the county, provide a direct link to front line prosecutors working with law enforcement agencies, residents, and neighborhood and business leaders to collaborate on effective public safety strategies.

We work to maintain an independent role in our criminal justice system to ensure we preserve the public’s trust and confidence while we also hold law enforcement to the same standards of the law and rules of evidence as anyone else. When officers, agents, and deputies fall short, we hold them equally accountable. Twenty-first century prosecutors are held accountable ourselves through the independence of grand juries, judges, defense attorneys, media, and the public to make sure we are responsive and responsible to the people we serve and that we follow the laws and ethical rules of professional responsibility to make sure that the guilty do not go free and that the innocent do not suffer injustice.

Twenty-first century prosecutors use data to allocate resources wisely and prosecute cases for the best possible resolution for victims, offenders, and our community. We work to identify when diverting an offender from formal prosecution to a Veterans, Mental Health, or Drug Court would help an offender most and safeguard our community. We also use diversion from formal felony charging with substance abuse treatment programs and defer prosecution of offenders who are better suited for our felony pretrial intervention program that has a 5 percent recidivism rate in the first three years of piloting the effort. Equally so, we use data to identify those most responsible for committing crime in our communities and those engaged in violence to protect those who simply want to live, work, and raise their families in peace and safety.

Lastly, 21st century prosecutors work collaboratively with our criminal justice system stakeholders and law enforcement and community partners to address causes of crime in the first place. We support youth programs like Si Se Puede and the Damian Gosa Memorial Foundation, crime prevention awareness through our community safety forums and speakers’ bureau, to advocacy for community-based public health programs to address mental health and substance abuse before there is a need for criminal justice system intervention. We realize that an effective criminal justice system must adapt and be flexible in our responses to crime and dealing with offenders while supporting and protecting victims of crime. The 21st century will continue to challenge us but with a commitment to partner, innovate, and lean forward in pursuit of improving public safety and justice for all, Maricopa County will also continue to grow and prosper.

— Bill Montgomery is the Maricopa County attorney and vice president and member of the Executive, Legislative, and Veterans committees of the National District Attorneys Association.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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