‘Laura Conover: Promises kept, new challenges to meet’

This article was originally published by The Arizona Daily Star

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover Special to the Arizona Daily Star Dec 11, 2022

When I became your County Attorney in January 2021, I promised that our Tucson approach to criminal justice reform would be data-driven and solutions-oriented.

I walked in after a full year of myriad challenges, including but not limited to a depressed economy, rising crime, and of course, a global pandemic that upended all of our lives. It had been a year in hell for the whole world, and Tucson was no exception.

We arrived, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work: diving into a backlog of 144 homicide cases (some dating back to 2017); zeroing in on an exploding gun violence spike: and formulating proactive ways to address a domestic violence crisis and a drug overdose emergency. We do this work hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies, nonprofits, and government entities, and we are in constant communication with the neighborhoods most impacted. The reality is, this office can’t fix the mental health crisis, substance use disorder, or homelessness. So we partner with the agencies best suited to help tackle the issues we face.

These are a few of the steps our office has taken to deal with the day-to-day realities of criminal justice in Pima County that fall within our purview:

Every Monday our homicide panel works through the backlog to bring justice and resolution to families who have lost a loved one. In this year alone, the panel and I have worked through 121 homicide presentations.

We are currently pursuing more than 700 felony domestic violence cases, which is a nearly 50% increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

We are trying several felony jury trials in different courtrooms of the Superior Court every single week to hold those who would harm us accountable.

In October, we handed out our 10,000th gun lock in just one fiscal quarter to prevent tragic, avoidable gun deaths.

Our building is now a registered site with the Pima County Health Department for Narcan distribution, and the sheriff, Tucson Police Department chief and I produced a public service announcement about how Narcan can save lives in the event of a drug overdose. Those posters are in every single bus in the region.

This is the essential, day-to-day work of prosecuting crimes and catching up from an incredible backlog of unresolved cases, as well as adapting quickly to the immediate needs and new challenges our community faces daily.

But we are also building for the future. Our focus is on reducing crime by working in a data-driven, synergistic manner with law enforcement, the courts, and corrections throughout the county, while at the same time implementing restorative justice programs that enhance community safety by focusing limited resources where they are needed most.

In January 2023, our newly hired Restorative Justice Coordinator will build our latest program so property crime victims can become whole again much more quickly than the system can offer.

On Saturdays, we continue our community cleanups to build trusting relationships while we pick up trash to make our communities safe and clean.

Every day, we process expungement requests that meet specific legal criteria to help people put their past behind them, enabling them to reenter society and the workforce in a pro-economy and pro-labor effort.

Difficult public safety challenges remain.

Our community and small and large business owners are rightfully concerned about property crime and assaultive behavior. I have explained as often as I can that I have zero authority over the misdemeanors of trespass, disorderly conduct, simple assault, and simple theft that occur in the Tucson city limits, but our office aggressively pursues these crimes when they rise to felony-level offenses inside the Tucson city limits and misdemeanor offenses that arise outside the Tucson city limits and other incorporated areas. I work closely with mom-and-pop businesses as well as Walgreens and Circle K. I am in constant contact with the Metro and Hispanic chambers of commerce.

I believe in a regional/metro approach to addressing criminal justice concerns and will soon travel to Tulsa with Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar as guests of the Department of Justice to help develop strategies around violent crime and firearms trafficking.

Let’s be clear. The People’s Office will not lose sight of humanity. We will not back down off our core values. The people out in the cold right now are someone’s daughter, someone’s son. And when harmful, criminal activity occurs, if my office has the power (jurisdiction) over it, we have and will continue to hold people accountable. But we will not slide back to the days of only seeking punitive measures without data to support the need for punishment. Instead we will be smart on crime.

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