ADVANCING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: SAN DIEGO DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND OUTREACH

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By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies
 
Photo:  San Diego County Deputy DA Monique Myers speaks at the Lakeside Life town hall in May 2019 – Photo courtesy IPS.
 
August 19, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) -- Efforts by the Institute for Public Strategies to reduce the negative impact of drugs and alcohol on communities in East County provides us the opportunity to work with many great change makers. This includes residents, elected officials, and law enforcement. The San Diego County District Attorney’s office is part of that last category, and some view it as the last stop in the criminal justice process. 

Photo right courtesy DDA Monique Myers
 
DA Summer Stephan has made it a priority to become more pro-actively engaged with the community and wants to hear from East County residents. So much so, in fact, that she has assigned a Community Partnership Prosecutor to the region as part of a countywide community engagement and outreach team.
 
Monique Myers was appointed to cover the East County and works out of the DA’s office in El Cajon. She does not prosecute cases. Her job is to listen to our concerns, inform the public, identify problems and find solutions. She’s been at it full time since January.
 
When the position opened, Myers jumped at the chance.
 
“I applied because it really spoke to me. It resonated with me,” she said. “I’m a problem solver, so I like to look for problems and find solutions.”
 
“I also want to solve crime,” Myers said.
 
Photo, left:  Creative Commons
 
Myers’ responsibilities include engaging with the East County community, developing stronger partnerships in the area, and looking at the community to see what the District Attorney’s office can do to help when it comes to neighborhood safety issues.
 
So far, homelessness is the top concern throughout the East County, according to Myers. She has been attending community forums, town halls and collaborative meetings, coffee with the sheriff events, chambers of commerce gatherings and many others.
 
Identity theft seems to be a problem in the more rural communities, according to Myers. Residents are additionally concerned about drunk driving and mostly quality of life crimes. People who are experiencing homelessness and the issues that are connected to it keep coming up, including illegal lodging, mental health, drug use, etc. 
 
Photo, right:  Creative Commons
 
Homelessness is not unique to East County. South Bay, North County and central San Diego are also grappling with how best to address the issue. Myers meets regularly with her counterparts in the DA’s office who are assigned to the other three regions. It’s a collaboration in which the other deputy DAs share information about how criminal justice and other issues are being ironed out. 
 
That’s where the deputy DAs can have in-depth conversations about unmet community needs and how they can be. Not having a criminal caseload means they can go to meetings and have conversations with law enforcement chiefs and other officials. Those higher level conversations can lead to big changes. Instead of affecting just one individual, they can affect a neighborhood, a community or the whole county.
 
This work is similar to the environmental prevention efforts by IPS where we work with
communities to change systems and institutional culture from those that promote
unhealthy behaviors to those that promote vibrant, healthy, and safe communities.
 
It’s like beginning with a view from the sky and drilling down, according to Myers. Like a legal think tank.
 
“Our office is really interested in crime prevention and there are a lot of efforts in San Diego to do that,” Myers said. “But we need help getting the word out.”
 
The DA’s community outreach also includes presentations on how to prevent identity theft, elder abuse and rape by intoxication on college campuses. East County residents can avoid becoming a victim by taking advantage of the resources offered by the DA’s office.
 
The DA’s office does a Citizens’ Academy in which they partner with the Sheriff’s Department to explain the different divisions in the office and provide information about crime prevention.
 
DA employees also offer mentorships to students at Bancroft Elementary School in El Cajon in a so-called Power League pilot program where they teach the students a social and emotional curriculum that includes empathy and team work. The program has been so successful that, it has gone countywide.
 
It’s programs like these that keep Myers engaged in her work and feeling like she is making a difference. A typical prosecutor’s job involves talking to members of the community about the worst day of their life, when they became a crime victim. Now, Myers is developing longer-lasting relationships.
 
“I love it. I’m enjoying it much more than I could have imagined,” Myers said. “One of the best things is connecting people to services.”
 
Crime data doesn’t always tell the whole story about a community, according to Myers. Sometimes people don’t feel safe in their community. Even though it may not be reflected in the crime data, that’s how they feel. Myers wants to make East County residents feel safer at home.
 
The placement of sexually violent predators in the backcountry by Superior Court judges can make residents feel unsafe. Their release into the community is court ordered and the DA’s office has no say in determining the location of their placement in the community.
 
If you are not able to get to a community meeting or event where Myers is appearing, you can always reach her through her East County office at (619) 441-4522. Keep in mind that she cannot take a crime report. That’s for police and Sheriff’s deputies. She won’t respond to a cat stuck in a tree either. But she will listen to your concerns and help connect you to the proper resources when applicable.
 
Photo, left:  David R. Shorey.  Photo courtesy IPS
 

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