Russo said three lawyers from his office, in partnership with the Alameda County District Attorney's office and the Oakland Police Department, will target pervasive misdemeanors and infractions that he said eventually contribute to more serious crimes.
"While these crimes are not as shocking and evil as violent felonies such as homicides and robberies, they too often degenerate public safety and social order, leading to an environment of lawlessness and violence in our neighborhoods," Russo said.
Among the types of crimes the new team will prosecute are disorderly conduct, illegal dumping, drug-related offenses, disturbing the peace and selling stolen property, Russo said.
He said the unit's goal isn't necessarily to send more people to jail, as the unit will focus on intervention services and restorative justice programs where appropriate, especially for first-time offenders who commit minor crimes.
Joining Russo at a news conference at Oakland City Hall, Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said, "Our office is committed to holding accountable those people who prey on our communities and wreak havoc in our neighborhoods."
"This partnership allows us to leverage resources, step up prosecution of 'quality of life' crimes and work toward improving the lives of Oakland's citizens," O'Malley said.
She said the three attorneys on the new team will be deputized to work for the district attorney's office but will be paid by the city of Oakland.
O'Malley said the attorneys "will work side by side with the district attorney's staff."
She said her office already handles up to 15,000 misdemeanor cases a year in Oakland and that the new unit "will enhance what we're doing." Assistant Police Chief Dave Kozicki said he's "optimistic" that the program will help the Police Department get a better handle on the city's high crime rate.
"It's about building our capacity and will help us better prioritize our work," Kozicki said.
City Councilman Larry Reid, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said he hopes the unit "will allow the city to take a comprehensive approach to fighting these kinds of problems and hold people accountable."
"We'll now have a fighting chance to take back our city," Reid said.
Russo said his goal is for each attorney to prosecute about 100 cases the first year of the program, 200 the second year and 300 the third year.
But he admitted there probably will be growing pains as the new program gets off the ground.
"We'll jump in the pool and start swimming," Russo said.