Office receives $195,838 grant

Community prosecution effort will be expanded

Howard County

October 31, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County state's attorney's office has been awarded $195,838 in federal grant money to expand its 5 1/2 -year-old community prosecution program by hiring an extra prosecutor, targeting communities for outreach and providing "seed" money for new projects.

The grant, through the U.S. Department of Justice, comes on the heels of the county's designation this summer as one of nine community prosecution "leadership sites" in the country.

The sites are model programs whose leaders have offered themselves as teachers for offices looking to start outreach efforts.

The new money will be used for an additional prosecutor's position, one dedicated to problem-solving in communities. It will also help launch an interactive Web site to spotlight communities and allow residents to track progress of criminal cases and other needs, said Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon.

Lara Weathersbee, a six-year veteran of the office, will be introduced as the new community justice prosecutor at a news conference this morning, McLendon said yesterday.

A new prosecutor has been hired to replace Weathersbee and will start Monday, she said.

While prosecutors in the office are assigned communities in addition to their regular trial duties, Weathersbee will be relieved of the normal trial rotation schedule to target the needs of three other communities, McLendon said.

Although the communities have not been chosen, McLendon said, she has approached Oakland Mills and is interested in speaking with officials in Owen Brown and North Laurel to gauge interest.

In community prosecuting, assistant state's attorneys interact with residents to determine what a community's problems are and to find ways to stop crimes before they occur.

The extra attention the program brings would be a plus for residents trying to understand the "good and bad realities of our community," said David Hatch, the chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

"I think it can be a confidence-booster for people to know there is this extra interest," and to know there are professionals on-site to take care of problems as they arise, he said. "It seems to be low-cost for our community, and the benefits are well out of proportion to our investment. It's an opportunity to do something good for our community."

Decade-old concept

An outgrowth of community policing initiatives, the decade-old concept of community prosecution has grown steadily.

About half of the approximately 2,800 state's attorneys offices in the United States include at least some elements of community prosecution, said Michael R. Kuykendall, director of the National Center for Community Prosecution at the American Prosecutors Research Institute in Alexandria, Va.

The national leadership site designation, which was established last year, recognizes offices such as McLendon's, which have become the "epitome of community prosecution" by not only running their own programs but also teaching others the basics of the concept, he said.

The noncompetitive grants like the one Howard County received allow those programs to grow and discover new ways of serving communities, he said.

Leadership sites include large offices - such as Washington and Brooklyn, N.Y. - and smaller offices, like the one in Howard County.

`A lot of money'

"That's a lot of money for a local prosecutor to just do what they're [already] doing," Kuykendall said. "This is something that Marna was doing without the funds."

Once the 18-month grant period runs out, McLendon said she will have to find other ways to fund continuing costs, such as Weathersbee's position. But the state's attorney said she is certain that community prosecution has become a lasting concept.

"I think we're learning a new way of doing business, and we're learning that prosecutors are more than case processors," said McLendon, who teaches the concept across the country.

"This helps us recognize that we have more to do with a community than just prosecute a case."

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