Criminal Case Filings in Monroe County, 1993-2011

31 Aug

The Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office had a 2012 budget of around $2.17M, not counting the child support collection-related activities or grant-funded programs like adult protective services. This $2.17M was paid for both out of the General Fund ($1.43M) and the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund (fees paid by participants in the Pretrial Diversion Program and Infraction Diversion Programs, $732K).

A substantial portion of the $732K from pretrial and infraction diversion fees goes towards basic operations of the Prosecutor’s Office. This is a practice that goes back to the 2008 budget, and has a long and complicated history that I won’t go into detail on right now. However, the upshot is that the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund is not only currently unsustainable given current revenues and expenditures, but is projected to run out of money this year. Beyond the fiscal unsustainability of the current funding arrangement, some philosophical/policy objections have also been raised (i.e., that funding basic operations of the prosecutor’s office from user fees and fines creates an incentive for the prosecutor to “shake down” students for pretrial diversion revenues).

In any case, for the 2013 budget, the Prosecutor’s Office is requesting that the Council move 5 legal secretary positions (as well as some additional expenses, for a total of almost $270K) from the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund to the General Fund, in order to make the pretrial diversion fund sustainable. This essentially would result in a General Fund budget increase of $270K, and is part of the almost $1.4M of departmental budget requests that exceed projected revenue. The Council is obviously going to make some tough choices here.

All of this is a long preamble for the chart I wanted to provide here. In considering whether or not to accept some (or all?) of the positions that the Prosecutor’s Office is requested be moved back into County General, we have to consider the appropriateness of the overall staffing level of the office with respect to the needs of the community. One component of that analysis is the criminal case filings, which of course is a measure both of the crime that occurs in the community (which the Prosecutor generally has very little control over, although our current Prosecutor has been a model of proactive crime prevention) and of the specific policies of the Prosecutor. One of the policy questions faced by fiscal bodies like the County Council is: to what degree is the county required to pay for policy decisions by individual elected officials?

I put together the following chart, courtesy of data from the Monroe County Circuit Courts, on criminal case filings in Monroe County from 1993-2011 (1993 is the earliest I could get good data from). The cases are separated into misdemeanors and felonies, and I have labeled those cases that occurred under prosecutor Carl Salzmann and those that occurred under (current) prosecutor Chris Gaal.

Monroe County Criminal Case Filing Statistics 1993-2011

 

Overall it does not appear that there has been a substantial increase in overall criminal case filings over the past 10 years (beyond a small among that is probably accounted for by overall population growth — more people generally is going to mean more crime). It is interesting to note that criminal case filings had dipped quite low in the last two years of the Salzmann administration. Was this simply a result of less crime in the community, or was there a policy decision to pursue criminal filings less aggressively? As you can also see, when prosecutor Chris Gaal took over in 2007, there was a large spike in filings, leading to 2007 being the high-water mark for criminal case filings. However, the filing rate appears to have stabilized in the ensuing years, and is probably a better indication of the “normal” rate of criminal filings, rather than the “prosecution-lite” last two years of the previous prosecutor’s administration.

 

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