Tuesday, December 11, 2007

County attorney’s crime prevention efforts valid

by Mike Scerbo
Maricopa County Attorney's Office PIO

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office does more than prosecute criminals. For years we have put time and effort into projects aimed at preventing crime and the frequent loss of life that results. That’s why Bill Richardson’s Dec. 7 commentary in the East Valley Tribune (“Public safety dollars wasted on sideshows,” Opinion 2) got our attention.

Richardson surprisingly criticizes us for public service efforts intended to prevent drunken driving and to make sure store shelves are free of dangerous toys. While our primary responsibility is prosecuting criminals, we consider public safety and preventing crime an essential part of our mission.

Our dedicated team of attorneys prosecutes 40,000 cases a year. We also work hand-in-hand with police agencies in high-profile cases such as the Chandler Rapist. In fact, we have put considerable amounts of time and effort into the investigation, just as we did in the Serial Shooters and Baseline Killer investigations.

But there is another component to our mission, preventing crime, and we use public service announcements because they work. These announcements have tackled issues such as DUIs and drug abuse, especially meth. Day after day, our prosecutors deal with the tragic aftermath of crime. And while we work tirelessly to make sure the guilty are properly punished, wouldn’t we all be better off if those crimes had never happened?

We make these announcements because we’ve seen too many innocent lives crushed under the wheels of drunken drivers. We’ve seen too many young lives cut short by the poison that’s pushed on our youth in a media culture that sometimes glorifies criminal behavior instead of scorning it. We are worried that the continual flow of dangerous toys into this country could harm a child. Before entering government service, I spent 22 years as a reporter covering the lives ruined and lost from crimes that should have never happened. It’s important to point out that our public service announcements are financed through funds and assets seized from criminals and not through taxpayer dollars.

The county attorney’s office is not alone in using public service announcements to prevent tragedies and promote public health. There is a multi-million dollar anti-meth campaign sponsored by various Arizona counties, including Maricopa, and the state of Arizona. Arizona state government has spent millions on anti-smoking efforts. Attorney General Terry Goddard appears on radio public service announcements, funded in part through Arizona distillers, warning of the dangers of underage drinking. Gov. Janet Napolitano recently announced a massive media campaign aimed at juvenile drinking though the Arizona Underage Drinking Prevention Committee.

As a former news director, I can say that government uses these announcements because they work. They are written and produced to make a potential drunken driver think twice before getting behind the wheel. They are aimed at young people to make them consider the consequences of drug abuse before they wind up in jail or worse. The idea is to reach out to the viewer or the listener before they become a suspect, a victim, or worse yet, a statistic. It is widely recognized that crime prevention messages change behavior.

Examples of success include the coordinated efforts to fight meth. A 2006 survey by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission found that the percentage of Arizona 12th graders who used methamphetamines or stimulants decreased from 2002 to 2006. The survey was taken a year after the county attorney’s office launched its anti-meth campaign. While we’re not trying to claim credit for the entire decline, we do believe our efforts were a major factor and helped get the ball rolling.

Before Andrew Thomas became county attorney, this office saw the value in public service announcements. Our Drug Free AZ program took on the drug ecstasy. In 2003, use of ecstasy dropped 68 percent in the Phoenix area after our parent education programs, work with the medical community, and public service announcements.

I spent decades on the radio as a reporter and now my voice is heard on our radio public service announcements on drunken driving. Richardson says the DUI effort made him “want to puke.” Bill, my intent wasn’t to make you lose your lunch. Our intent is to prevent someone from losing their life in a DUI crash.

The office investigates, prosecutes criminals, and works alongside Valley law enforcement. One thing we can’t do is turn back the clock and keep a crime from happening. But we can devote some resources to prevent crimes and hopefully save some lives in the process.

This article appeared in the East Valley Tribune on December 11, 2007

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