Contra Costa DA outlines prosecution cuts

April 22, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Next month, Contra Costa County will stop prosecuting most misdemeanors as a way of saving money. Wednesday the District Attorney met with police to outline the new policy. DUI's and domestic abuse cases will go forward, but most others will go unpunished.

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"It's going to put people in danger," said Concord jeweler Ernest Ricco.

Ricco says a new policy not to prosecute misdemeanors in Contra Costa County, puts him and others at risk.

"We're kind of like sitting ducks in an open season. If people are able to come in and take whatever they want without fear of consequences, they're going to do it," says Ricco.

Thanks to budget cuts, starting May 4 Contra Costa District Attorney Robert Kochly says his office would no longer pursue most low-level crimes. For instance, someone caught with less than half a gram of heroin would not be prosecuted.

ABC7 obtained a memo Kochly sent to police chiefs detailing exactly which misdemeanors will go unprosecuted. They include: drug possession, assault, battery, burglary, shoplifting, forgery, embezzlement, vandalism and trespassing.

"No one's happy. This is a no-win situation for me, for the communities in this county. It's a terrible thing to have to do," says Kochly.

Kochly met with police chiefs from around the county at Concord Police headquarters.

"We won't stop making arrests," says Concord Police Chief David Livingston, who heads the county's Police Chiefs Association. "The community should know arrests will continue to be made and cases will continue to be investigated."

But is an arrest alone much of a deterrent?

"I don't think that there's any doubt you're going to see an influx of criminals from across the county lines," says Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Barry Grove.

Some worry if prosecutors don't follow through, members of the public might decide to administer their own punishment.

"People will start feeling vulnerable, just the good citizens, and you might start to see retaliation of that. People might start taking the law into their own hands," said Oakley resident Musa Yusin.

Contra Costa may be just the first county to reduce misdemeanor prosecutions. Kochly says he's heard from several counterparts in other Bay Area counties who are considering making the same move to save money.

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