'Chaos': Alameda Co. DA dismissing cases as pandemic-related backlog grows

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Alameda County's District Attorney says she can't keep up with the criminal case load created by the pandemic.

"We've seen a big uptick in crime, especially violent crime," said Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O'Malley, who says she's having a hard time getting suspects to court.

"The court system at the beginning of the pandemic, shut down."

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Now, 15 months later, O'Malley says that means she's dealing with a backlog of 12,000 cases. Pre-pandemic, she says the backlog was usually more like 8,000 cases.

"Crimes like driving under the influence or breaking into a car, if there's not a courtroom and it's going to take three years to get through a court process for a case like that, then it's nearly impossible to keep those cases pending."

Even though courts are starting to open up, O'Malley says she's dismissing cases.

"For people to be able to commit crimes and have no consequence - that is not good," she said.

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After decades working in the DA's office, O'Malley says the current circumstances are disheartening.

"It's contrary to what we do, which is seek justice -- and justice is for victims of crime and justice is for our community," she said.

Sgt. Ray Kelly with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office says their office has been sounding the alarm on an uptick in crime.

"We're dealing with chaos, is what we're dealing with."

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Kelly supports O'Malley, and points out that jail and prison populations were reduced during the pandemic to decrease COVID transmission.

"Now there's no stop gap, it's just this revolving door. You could steal a car every day in Alameda County, and go to jail for about 6-8 hours and be out and you could steal another car and steal another car and just keep doing that," said Kelly.

But not everyone in East Bay law enforcement is sympathetic to O'Malley's concerns.

"I'm actually disappointed, very disappointed that the district attorney of Alameda County is essentially surrendering," said Sgt. Barry Donelan, who is president of the Oakland Police Officers Association.

Donelan says it's incumbent on O'Malley, regardless of resources, to prosecute the criminals Oakland Police arrest.

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"All the way through the pandemic, Oakland Police officers have been here every single day and we're striving to arrest violent criminals. We arrested 20 murderers so far this year, took 1,000 weapons off the street last year, and what I would ask for the other elements of the criminal justice system is to find a way to do their job."

Kate Larsen: "Do you think Alameda County is less safe right now because your office can't prosecute the way it would like to?"

Nancy O'Malley: "No. I do believe our law enforcement is paying close attention that people who are dangerous to the community, or dangerous to the victim of the crime, are in custody for the most part."

O'Malley says with more court resources coming back online, they will continue to work to resolve cases and work with victims before dismissing a case.
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