Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Response from Patrick Hamacher, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Candidate

1. What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? What experience/attributes do you have that qualify you for this position?

The key role of the Circuit Attorney is implementing internal and external policies for the prosecution of crimes in the City of Saint Louis.

Internal policies include office structure, management, and training. Creating and managing an office-wide mentorship program is one attribute that makes me uniquely qualified to make decisions about the inner-workings of the Circuit Attorney’s Office. I have a vision for how to change internal policy to improve efficiency, office morale, and ensure we are getting better outcomes for the people of Saint Louis.

External policies include setting priorities for the enforcement of state-level crimes in the City of Saint Louis and seeking justice for our victims. This includes community involvement, decisions about the charging and prosecution of crimes, implementing and investing in diversionary programs, and changing the role of the prosecutor in the criminal justice system. I have been at the forefront of many of these issues in the Circuit Attorney’s Office and have articulated a plan for how I would change policies to ensure a more efficient and equitable system.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for this position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

I believe I am the best person for this position because I have the first-hand experience dealing with our City’s most violent offenders, have been at the forefront of criminal justice reform issues, have proven my leadership ability through the creation of a mentorship program, and most importantly, have a vision for where the Circuit Attorney’s Office needs to go in the future.

I am only one of two candidates that have prosecuted murder cases. This experience dealing with the most violent offenders is important when considering the future Circuit Attorney, as they have power to make policy decisions that affect how we deal with crime.

A key difference between myself and the other candidates is that I have been at the forefront of criminal justice reform issues. Unlike the other candidates who are now interested in diversionary programs and restorative justice, I have a proven record of implementing these types of alternatives before we had any such program in the office.

In 2015, I created an office-wide Mentorship Program to increase attorney retention, boost office morale, and develop leaders within the Circuit Attorney’s Office. I observed that new attorneys were coming into the office often unprepared for the courtroom and overwhelmed by the workload. I took the initiative to create the Mentorship Program to make sure that we have a chance to retain quality prosecutors who love their job. By creating and managing this program, I have shown my leadership ability within the office.

Finally, I am the best person for this position because I have articulated a concrete vision for safety of our city and the Circuit Attorney’s Office. We need a new vision and a fresh perspective in which we take an approach to the criminal justice system that is smart on crime, and I am the only candidate that has proposed an implementable plan for the office and improving the safety of our city.

3. What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

The two most pressing issues facing this office are the rise in violent crime and the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

In order to address the rise in violent crime, I plan to put more resources into aggressively prosecuting the most violent offenders. We can better use the data available and updated technology to target the most violent offenders and hold them accountable. Through office restructuring, I can have more prosecutors dedicated to getting violent offenders off our streets and making our communities safer.

Saint Louis is at a critical moment. We have an opportunity to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement and make Saint Louis a safer, more prosperous and tolerant city all at the same time. To begin to address these issues, I plan to form strategic partnerships with community members and leaders, expand diversionary programs, diversify the office staff, and utilize technology to ensure we are using our resources more wisely and holding the most violent offenders accountable.

4. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

I think the single most important trait of our next Circuit Attorney is the ability to form coalitions and collaborate with other stakeholders. This is the only way that our city can address both the rise in violent crime and begin to build the trust between the community and law enforcement. I plan to effectively implement the “focused deterrence” strategy employed by other major urban cities including Kansas City. Not only has this strategy proven to reduce violent crime rates but it has also shown to build long-term relationships between the community and law enforcement. In order to implement this strategy though, we will need to have the commitment from partners including the Police Department, City Hall, social service providers, health care providers, schools, faith leaders, and community members. It is vital that the next Circuit Attorney have the ability to collaborate and form these partnerships.

5. Do you support a special prosecutor request in officer-involved shootings?

I support calling for special prosecutors in officer-involved shootings. I have personally been involved in the investigation of officer-involved shooting cases so I understand the amount of time and resources it takes to handle these cases. I also understand that, as a prosecutor, I have to rely on police to do my job everyday. Naturally, I have developed relationships with many of them. As a result, I believe calling for a special prosecutor will not only will remove any conflict of interest, but it will save office resources to allow my prosecutors to concentrate on the most violent offenders.

6. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Do you have a policy on accepting lobbyist gifts? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

$2,500 John Kurowski – father of my best friend Joe Kurowski
$2,500 Mark Keaney – best childhood friend
$1,000 Dwight Warren – Co-Worker, Saint Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office

I have not accepted any lobbyist gifts nor will I. I will not accept campaign contributions from Rex Sinquefield.

7. Since the shooting death of Michael Brown, the roles of prosecutors in our criminal justice system have become a topic of national discussion. If elected, how will you work to increase trust between our criminal justice system and the community, in particular low income communities of color? 

There are several ways I intend to work to increase trust between law enforcement and the community.
  1. Form strategic partnerships with the Police Department, City Hall, social service providers, health care providers, schools, faith leaders, and community members to address the rise in violent crime and reforms in the criminal justice system.
  2. Establish a recruiting program to ensure the Circuit Attorney’s Office reflects the diversity of the community we serve.
  3. Expand diversionary programs for first-time, non-violent offenders, veterans, and those with drug addiction issues and mental illnesses.
  4. Decriminalize misdemeanor possession of marijuana. The enforcement of these laws has shown to disproportionately affect minority communities, crowd the criminal docket system, and waste law enforcement resources.
  5. Request Special Prosecutors for officer-involved shootings.

8. The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails – a 500% increase over the past thirty years. St. Louis is not immune to this trend. In particular, people who commit crimes as a result of drug seeking behavior or have mental illness comprise roughly a third of the people in our jails at any given time. If elected, what steps will you take to decrease incarceration rates in St. Louis, especially for people with substance abuse and mental health issues?

In order to reduce the number of people in our prison system, I intend to take 3 key steps:
  1. Expand and encourage the use of our existing Drug Court. It costs about $23,000 to send someone to the Missouri Department of Corrections for a year while it costs roughly $7,000 to send someone through a Drug Court Program. While 7 out of 10 people return to the MDC, only 3 of 10 sent to a Drug Court Program re-offend. I believe we can expand this program and must allow any individual without a violent criminal history that wants to utilize the drug court into the program.
  2. If elected, I would champion the establishment of a City of St. Louis Mental Health Court. Offering diversionary options to people with mental illnesses has proven to reduce recidivism rates, save taxpayer dollars, and offer a second chance to St. Louis residents who have mental health issues.
  3. Decriminalize the misdemeanor possession of marijuana. This will allow me to divert police and prosecutors’ resources to the most violent offenders and utilize diversionary programs for those with drug addiction issues.

9. Recently, a former aide of Richard Nixon admitted that the War on Drugs was fabricated to target low-income communities of color and people who were a part of the liberal left. We now have multiple Presidential candidates calling for an end to the war on drugs. As Circuit Attorney, what role will you play in ending the war on drugs?

As a City, we have to be more progressive in our approach to ending the war on drugs. While it is important to aggressively prosecute drug dealers, we need to take a more proactive approach with those dealing with drug addiction issues. I plan to expand our Drug Court so that those dealing with substance abuse issues can receive treatment for their illness and become productive members of society again.

I am the only candidate for Circuit Attorney that believes in the decriminalization of marijuana. It unfairly targets certain populations and wastes our already stretched office resources on cases that in neighboring states are not even considered.

10. Some Circuit Attorneys are criticized for only prosecuting cases they know can be wonn in order to maintain a high conviction rate. As Circuit Attorney, how will you make decisions on what cases to prosecute?

I have always believed that the role of the prosecutor is much more than conviction rates. It is about finding ways to keep offenders out of the revolving door of the criminal justice system with the hope of addressing some of the root causes of crime.

While some of my opponents have touted their conviction rates, I like to talk about my success stories. The things I am most proud of in my career are diverting young men away from prison, starting a mentorship program for young attorneys, and getting justice for victims’ families. We need to make decisions about prosecution based on doing what is just and not on conviction rates.

To do this, I plan to focus my resources on the most violent offenders. By taking a smart on crime approach to prosecution, we can use data and technology to target the most violent offenders. At the same time, we can utilize diversionary programs to ensure that people with mental illnesses, drug addiction issues, veterans, and first time non-violent offenders are directed away from the criminal justice system to resources they need.

11. As Circuit Attorney, how will you ensure that people who have committed crimes are able to have the opportunity to fully participate in society after they have done their time?

I am a big proponent of programs such as “From Prison to Prosperity” where individuals like Bruce Franks are ensuring there is a support system in place for defendants both during and after prison. If we are not ensuring that people have educational and job opportunities after they have served their time, then we are bound to see these people again in our jails, prisons and courtrooms. By supporting re-entry programs, utilizing our Drug Court and establishing a Mental Health Court, we can have a dramatic impact not only on recidivism rates but also give these offenders the chance they never had.

12. What is your position on expungement, restorative justice, and diversion programs?

I support expungements for those that have served their time and demonstrated an ability to be productive members of society.

I am a proponent of both restorative justice and diversionary programs. I plan to expand the Drug Court program and assist in establishing a Mental Health Court. Further, I plan to develop more expansive diversionary programs for non-violent offenders.

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