Frank A. Sedita III was sworn in as Erie County’s 29th District Attorney on January 1, 2009. He was immediately confronted with the fact that the number of prosecutors in Erie County falls far short of the number of prosecutors in similarly sized counties throughout the state. Sweeping reforms, designed to make the District Attorney’s Office more professional, more aggressive, more cost-efficient, and more responsive to the needs of the community, were immediately implemented under the new administration.
Important policies have been implemented with respect to the prosecution of violent felonies. For example, no reduced plea is generally available to a defendant properly charged with illegal possession of a loaded firearm; mandatory imprisonment is the practical result of such a policy. We also have one of toughest plea-bargaining policies of any prosecutor’s office in the nation, as demonstrated by the fact that nearly 90% of indicted felonies do not result in a reduced plea.
Important reforms have been implemented in the area of domestic violence prosecution. In the past, few prosecutors were trained in this field. Now, four prosecutors specialize in this field and regularly appear in the Domestic Violence Part of Erie County Court and the Integrated Domestic Violence Part of State Supreme Court. Two additional prosecutors staff the Domestic Violence Part of Buffalo City Court on a four-month rotating basis. Because of this important initiative, every Assistant District Attorney will eventually receive training and hands-on experience in the field of domestic violence prosecution.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is the most prevalent criminal offense committed in Erie County. Aggressive DWI prosecution and our no-plea policy for felony level DWI offenses have dramatically increased the amount of money collected in fines. These fines are shared between police agencies and STOP DWI, a county agency. We have thus far collected over $3,000,000 in DWI fines. The county taxpayer’s burden in financing necessary police services is considerably lightened as a consequence of our aggressive prosecution policies in this regard.
Important reforms have also been implemented with respect to the prosecution of white collar crimes. Because most local police agencies are not well-suited to investigate white collar crimes, we have established and strengthened relationships with several state investigative agencies, including the Special Investigations Unit of the New York State Police, the New York State Department of Labor and the New York Department of Taxation and Finance. Our performance under the crimes against revenue program (CARP) is particularly noteworthy. Under CARP, the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) subsidizes the salaries of two prosecutors and several support staff members who specialize in the aggressive prosecution of tax evaders and those who steal from the state government. In conjunction with the Erie County Department of Social Services, we similarly prosecute welfare cheats and those who steal from the county government. We have thus far returned over $700,000 in tax evasion and welfare fraud collections to Erie County taxpayers. Because of our efforts, scores of welfare cheats have been stricken from public assistance rolls, creating an additional savings to county taxpayers.
Attorney administration has been streamlined and decentralized. The number of attorney supervisors has been reduced. Take-home vehicle privileges have also been reduced and are now limited to those on 24/7call. All Assistant District Attorneys, including supervisors, now maintain active caseloads.
Administrative streamlining and cost-cutting measures have also been implemented with respect to non-attorney positions. For example, the Deputy for Administration, a non-attorney, is the office manager. She supervises all non-attorney staff and performs the work once assigned to three separate staff members under prior administrations. Streamlining, retirements, and other cost-cutting measures have enabled us to return approximately $7,000,000 in turnover savings over the last three years.
We have undertaken other important administrative reforms at no cost to the county taxpayer. For example, we use asset forfeiture funds (i.e. money seized from drug dealers) to purchase necessary office equipment. We have recently secured a DCJS grant to modernize our electronic prosecutor case management system (PCMS). We are also hopeful in securing an efficiency grant from the Erie County Control Board, which will allow us to electronically store our files. We anticipate that electronic file storage will result in significant long-term financial savings and prove to be environmentally beneficial as well.
All of the foregoing measures—administrative streamlining, turnover savings, tax evasion collections, welfare fraud collections, and DWI fines—have enabled us to gain and/or return approximately $10,000,000 on behalf of county taxpayers since 2009.