Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Give us your pickpockets, your vandals, your petty thieves...

Yearning to breathe free.

Lane County, Oregon (home of the University of Oregon) offers an invitation:

Petty theft and about 100 other nonviolent misdemeanors - including forgery, credit card fraud and car break-ins - won't be prosecuted by the Lane County district attorney starting today.

With about 150 new criminal cases filed each week, something has to give in order for the county's 21 criminal prosecutors to handle higher-priority violent crimes, Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad said Tuesday.

Prosecutors will focus on violent crimes, domestic violence, felony property crimes involving burglary and losses of $750 or more and drug dealing, he said.

....Harcleroad, who returned to office in January, acknowledged that his latest policy change may rub residents the wrong way, but he said it comes down to setting priorities with limited resources.

....Harcleroad also would not speculate about the cause of continuously rising caseloads, other than noting that 400 law enforcement officers feed their work into his office. However, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Mortimore said some of the increase is driven by criminals who are released from jail because of overcrowding and who continue to commit new crimes after release.

....The reduction is part of the overall erosion in local public safety programs that ranges from inadequate reform programs for juveniles up to a 340-bed county jail that has 119 beds vacant because of budget constraints, Harcleroad said. He said he and other officials are working to persuade community leaders and the public to form a public safety service district to raise revenue for specific enforcement services.

"It's about the only viable solution," he said. "The whole justice system in Lane County is badly deteriorated."

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