Remarks by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas:
State of Public Safety in Orange County
January 20, 2015
Thank you, Supervisors Bartlett, Nelson, and Steel for allowing us to have this event at the Hall of Administration. We appreciate your hospitality.
Thank you, judges and elected officials who are here with us today.
Thank you, Judge Carter. He’s my secret good luck charm, because since he started administering the oath of office, I have run virtually unopposed. I served with Judge Carter in the Homicide Unit in the DA’s office, and we served as colleagues on the bench, and I like so many others admire his tenacity, work ethic, and integrity.
I would like to recognize my family, if they would not mind please standing up.
If Orange County were a state, we would be the 27th largest state in the country, and we can’t even see Russia from here. In order to run in a countywide election, it takes a lot of effort to win. Some key people that worked hard on my campaign are:
Campaign chairman Mike Schroeder, Campaign manager Susan Kang Schroeder, and Anne Dunsmore and Beth Holder who have served as my fundraisers.
This speech was supposed to be last week, but it had to be put off to today due to some technical issues. And I understand there are a couple of conspiracy theories going on including the DA email was hacked by North Korea, or that I was trying to one-up President Obama’s State of the Union in about an hour . I can assure you none of that is true. I asked the managers in my Office for suggestions on topics for this speech. One suggestion I got was, “if you want to be perceived as cool, take a selfie during the speech.” Well, since I still remember doing this to a phone. Look, I’m still using a Blackberry; that’s not going to happen I’m afraid.
I am privileged and humbled to be sworn in to my fifth term as DA. It has been a great privilege to have been given the opportunity to be a prosecutor, to do justice for the People, and to represent the victims of crime during some of the worst moments of their lives. I’ve often heard that people get the government they deserve and demand, and I first give credit to the People of Orange County for making public safety a priority and demanding excellence from the OCDA and our law enforcement partners. As a result, we have a lower crime rate than all of the counties surrounding us. I’m basing that on a 2013 FBI report.
I extend my sincerest gratitude to the People of Orange County on behalf of our office for giving us the opportunity to serve and to seek justice. I hope you will indulge me by giving me a few minutes to brag about the fine work this Office is doing and what we hope to accomplish in the next four years. The depth and breadth of what is being done day in and day out by the people in this DA’s Office is stunning, and I want to give you a sense of it. There are 760 members of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office who work hard every day to uphold our mission statement and make Orange County a safer place. Many of them are here today, and they are directly responsible for prosecuting more than 60,000 cases a year with an adult felony conviction rate of over 90 percent. Will the members of the OCDA’s Office please stand up? Will you help me in recognizing them?
When I began running for District Attorney in 1997, I was very distressed over the gang crime that was ravaging our community. Over half the homicides in Orange County are committed by gang members. In 1995, the County experienced 70 gang related homicides. Last year after a steady decline, we had 11 gang murders. Some of that is luck on the victim’s part and advancement in medical technology. But a great majority of the credit goes to the aggressive, collaborative efforts by law enforcement to eradicate gangs in this country.
Margaret Thatcher stated, “A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.” In Orange County, we regard a gang member is a gang member is a gang member.
We’re talking about criminal street gangs here. By definition, their main reason to exist is to commit crime; they are very destructive because they work in concert together, to commit crimes. And worst of all, they prey on our children to replenish their membership. We don’t make it a secret around here, that if you are a gang member in Orange County, we will “give no quarter.” We make it perfectly clear, that we want to make their lives uncomfortable.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has employed a 4-pronged attack, aggressively using the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. We seek the strictest possible penalties for crime “committed for the benefit of, in association with, or at the direction of criminal street gangs.”
Our philosophy being, “They can’t do the crime, if they are doing time.”
The Gang Unit specializes in the prosecution of documented gang members who commit serious and violent felonies or crimes involving possession of firearms. TARGET (or Tri-Agency Resources Gang Enforcement Team) is a partnership between police, probation and our office and reduces gang crimes by incapacitating the most active, hardcore gang offenders and preventing them from committing further violent acts in the community. These two units file and prosecute almost a thousand cases a year, conduct 80 jury trials with a conviction rate of more than 90 percent.
The third prong Is Gang Injunctions which is a civil order against named gang members with narrowly-tailored restrictions that designates specific gang behavior as a public nuisance. These lawsuits come about when our citizens, those who must live and work in the gang infested area, plead with law enforcement to help them be free of gangs.
It is well settled by our highest courts that obtaining injunctions to prevent gang members from associating with each other, wearing gang clothing, committing crimes and intimidating and assaulting people in a small geographical area is legal. We have obtained five gang injunctions in the last four years, which brings the total up to 13 permanent gang injunctions since 2006 to protect our citizens and prevent gang members from terrorizing those neighborhoods. Gang injunctions work. Period. They protect the people who have little choice but to live in these neighborhoods; people who are poor and have few resources. Violent crime in the 12 gang injunction safety zones fell by up to 65 percent after the injunctions were put in place.
And if you don’t trust the numbers, let me read this statement:
“Association, or the ability to congregate, is a visual display of prowess to gang members, the bigger the gang or grouping of gang members the better its ability to inflict violence on opposing gangs or project its dominance within a given area. If you eliminate the gang’s ability to congregate or associate with each other, then you have 50 percent of the gang problem resolved …
Many [gang members] fear reprisals from fellow gang members. By renouncing their gang associations, the gang members become ‘no good’ in the eyes of their peers. This stigma within the Hispanic gang subculture can have dire consequences. An injunction ‘legitimizes’ a gang member’s choice to disassociate him or herself from the gang. It allows the gang member to maintain their face of ‘gang respectability’ yet consciously and voluntarily participate in the attrition that follows an injunction.”
That extremely articulate statement was not written by a prosecutor, or a police officer, or a pillar of the community. It was written by a former prison gang member who was thanking us for giving him a way out.
These methods all work in conjunction with each other. In 2012-13, the District Attorney’s Office was a partner in Operation HALO, which was a joint local, state and federal operation targeting a notorious Anaheim gang’s activities running guns and drugs in their neighborhoods. After the HALO crackdown, prosecutions and a gang injunction were put in place. Gang members are now rarely seen out and about during regular police patrols. Citizens in the neighborhood regularly stop and thank patrol officers for giving them back their neighborhood and parks. Young children are now playing outside and grateful residents once again regularly gather outside and in community parks.
Finally, the fourth prong is frankly, very exciting. OC GRIP (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership) is a law enforcement partnership that identifies at-risk youths and aims to increase school attendance. This program is preventing children FROM joining gangs. There are OC GRIP programs in 50 schools. There are 98 people from this Office volunteering their time as well as the many volunteers from law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
We couldn’t do this without our law enforcement partners and over 100 business and faith-based community partners including Chivas USA, Saddleback Church, Albertson’s, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Ford Motor Company, and others. With their help, OC GRIP has given out over 3,000 Thanksgiving meals, 6,000 Angel’s tickets, 3,000 Chivas USA soccer tickets, and trips to the Ford Motor Company design center. Most importantly, these kids are learning that people care about them and want them to succeed in life.
OC GRIP’s success is stunning. More than 200 families were part of the GRIP truancy sweeps last year and all but six of those families had perfect attendance for the remainder of the school year. That meant up to $35,000 of increased funding for these schools. Standardized testing scores have all increased in the GRIP schools, and in San Juan Capistrano, GRIP schools have seen an average of 92 percent increase in test scores over a 2-year period.
One family who worked hard to turn their kid around won a brand new Ford Transit Connect furnished by the OC Ford Dealers Advertising Fund just last month.
All of this is working. There are 5,900 less gang members in Orange County since 1999. Anecdotally, when I recently attended a meeting in Sacramento, I got an earful from a police chief from a county up north that some of Orange County’s gang members are now residing in his county, because they don’t like the injunctions.
We will keep the pressure on their necks in the Gang and Target Units through continuing to aggressively prosecute them. In the next four years, we intend to file additional gang injunction lawsuits and expand the OC GRIP program to at least 75 schools.
The next group of vertical prosecutions units brings justice for the victims who have endured violent crimes – the Homicide Unit, Sexual Assault Unit, Family Protection Unit, and Human Exploitation And Trafficking Unit (HEAT).
The Homicide Unit boasts a 97 percent conviction rate. They vigorously pursue justice for the victims of homicide, including the most vulnerable in our community such as the elderly and infant victims of abuse. Its Vehicular Homicide division is a model statewide on how to prosecute vehicular homicides, including aggressive enforcement of the Watson case, which permits certain prosecution of driving under the influence fatalities to be charged as murder. Since its inception in 2008, we have obtained almost 90 vehicular death convictions, including 11 second degree murder convictions. Sadly, the majority of perpetrators and victims are under 25, so OCDA members give talks to high school and college kids about the dangers of driving under the influence.
The Sexual Assault Unit is usually the busiest trial unit with 74 trials per year. The defendants are often facing life sentences. These prosecutions require the utmost sensitivity in dealing with some of the most vulnerable victims to bring justice to some of the vilest defendants. Besides aggressively prosecuting these predators, this Unit has employed a new system called “Parole Leads Program,” for monitoring when a dangerous sexually violent predator will be released from prison and filing petitions to keep them civilly committed in a mental institution. We are the first County to employ this system, and I am confident others will follow.
The Family Protection Unit prosecutes the most serious domestic violence cases, child abuse and abduction, and elder abuse. This Unit not only prosecutes these difficult cases, but they really try to break the cycle of violence through education. This Unit in the last four years has given 25 domestic violence and 40 elder abuse presentations to the community.
And how about our newly formed HEAT Unit? Since the HEAT Unit was formed in April 2013, it has obtained 62 felony convictions, sending a majority of them to prison, including one for life, and not losing a single felony case. This Unit is actively working with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force to help save vulnerable women and children. These victims are often branded, trafficked, and forced to turn over 100 percent of their profits under threats and violence.
The Unit organized and hosted two awareness rallies and a Congressional field hearing, sent out hundreds of press releases, and put up mugs of sex purchasers on our website, to change the public’s hearts and minds about this fastest growing crime in America and around the world. I am committed to growing the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force in the next term so we can be a leader in ending modern day slavery.
I feel about Orange County the same way Illinois native Ronald Reagan felt about California. “I wasn’t lucky enough to have been born here, but I am smart enough to have moved here.” It’s no wonder Walt Disney chose Orange County to put the Happiest Place on Earth.
As a result, Orange County has become a major economic engine, not only for California, but for the whole country. Unfortunately, this also means our citizens and businesses are targeted for fraud.
Our fraud fighting units are divided into general fraud, insurance fraud, public assistance fraud, and consumer fraud.
Our Major Fraud Unit, White Collar Crime Team, Real Estate Fraud, Medical, Auto, Workers’ Compensation, Premium Insurance Fraud, Public Assistance Fraud, and Consumer Fraud cases involve a huge amount of discovery and often the most sophisticated defendants. The victims are often elderly and vulnerable, and the defendants have violated their position of trust.
A multitude of fraudsters have been sentenced to multiple years in state prison for stealing from the elderly, including a parolee who stole $200,000 from a 98-year-old blind and deaf widow with dementia to buy a Tiffany’s engagement ring and a sex swing, and also a caretaker for stealing $642,000 from elderly victims to shop, travel, and hire a dog whisperer. A Ponzi schemer who stole $900,000 from investors got 10 years.
In the next term, we hope to continue getting long sentences on those who crush people’s dreams by stealing their life savings. We will continue to expand the Real Estate Fraud Unit, to prevent people from filing fraudulent deeds and interfering with people’s most valuable asset.
Orange County holds the record for successful prosecution of the largest medical insurance fraud in the United States, in which 3,000 healthy patients were flown from all over the country to be operated on, resulting in $154 million in fraud. In 2014, we brought to a close this long prosecution of 19 defendants: among them three medical doctors, a lawyer, an accountant, hospital administrators and cappers. Every one of the defendants we originally charged was convicted and received up to 16 years in prison.
Recently, cyber intrusions have grabbed our headlines, and it can have much more dire consequences than embarrassing emails becoming public and a movie not being shown. One of the goals of the Fraud Unit is to create a cyber-intrusion team to better deal with these types of crimes.
The OCDA’s Consumer Fraud Unit is a leader in the state and the country in protecting consumers from unfair business practices in unprecedented leading cases. Large corporations sometimes harm consumers, as part of a business plan that they will cut costs knowing consumers may not have the resources to take them on if they are harmed.
This year, we filed People v. Purdue Pharma et al. It’s stunning that the United States is 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 99 percent of Vicodin and 80 percent of OxyContin drugs.
During this term, we will work to bring a successful prosecution of these companies and hold them accountable for marketing these products for uses not supported by any clinical research, and producing a generation of addicts.
There are a few other vertical units that handle very important cases, as well as offer assistance to other units.
The Special Prosecutions Unit handles high-profile cases that require special attention. They prosecute public integrity cases, international extraditions, hate crimes, mental health treatment hearings, parole hearings and a huge list of unusual cases. I am especially proud of their handling of cases on prosecuting attorneys, police officers and public officials, because these cases are difficult with defendants with much to lose.
We are very proud of our DNA unit. Our local DNA Database contains over 114,000 DNA profiles from individuals who agreed to provide their DNA samples. This has led to over 535 DNA cold hits that have solved many cases including murders, rapes and burglaries.
Our goal in the next term is to expand the rapid DNA Pilot Program that was launched in October of 2014 with six agencies, with the objective of providing law enforcement with an investigative lead within 100 minutes of receiving DNA evidence.
During the next term, we want to expand this program to cover more of the County and solve more cases as they happen.
With our Environmental Unit, we will continue to hold polluters responsible for harming our precious resources. In 2014, we obtained a $3.3 million settlement against a major grocery store for unlawfully disposing and transporting hazardous waste.
Our Law and Motion unit handled 2,000 motions with a 94 percent success rate, and 100 writs and appeals. Their most significant Supreme Court litigation came in a gang case.
In People v. Infante, the California Supreme Court ruled in our favor and vindicated our position that certain gun crimes that are otherwise misdemeanors may be prosecuted as felonies for gang members.
Our branch courts and the Felony Panel handle a huge bulk of the 80,000 cases we review and over 60,000 cases we prosecute. Their jobs have been made more difficult because of AB 109 realignment and Proposition 47. The Branch Courts, working with the DNA Unit, were responsible for collecting over 100,000 DNA samples. A few years back, we started disposing of minor misdemeanors by taking a DNA sample and handling the case informally to save costs to the tax payers and deal with the budget short falls.
Some people made fun, calling the program, “Spit and Acquit.” But not only have these DNA samples led to catching dangerous felons, it has also led to a reduction of criminal recidivism – from 22 percent to 9 percent. So call it what you want and I will take it if it means less people reoffending.
The Law and Motion Unit and the Branch Courts are working together to carefully navigate the litigation that is coming up in the Proposition 47 cases so that only the defendants who are eligible will get the benefit of the law. Unfortunately, many dangerous felons will be let back into the community early, and I fear that this law will result in the increase of crime.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office also employs more than 170 experienced police officers to serve as our investigators. With Chief Craig Hunter at the helm, we have already begun a lot of improvements in training and efficiency and working with all of our law enforcement partners. Their investigative skills are nothing less than excellent, and we must do what we can to continue to retain and recruit the finest cops in California. We expect great things, and to work with the Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies to get it done.
We were asked by the Board to take on the role of Public Administrator in 2014 and secure decedents’ property, process claims against their estates, and transfer the assets to the heirs. In 2013, the PA was appointed on four estates.
In 2014, we handled 37 estates. In the next term, we will set up the infrastructure and procedures in this office that will result in a more efficient process of administration.
Finally, I wanted to mention the people in our office who rarely get any credit, who are the support staff and members of the Orange County Employees Association. Their jobs are not often glamorous, but our DA Investigators and prosecutors could not do their jobs without them.
President Reagan kept on his desk, a saying by President Truman, “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” That’s mostly how law enforcement works in Orange County, both within our Office, and with our law enforcement partners.
Some of the best and most efficient crime-solving teams are task forces that involve many agencies pooling resources. That includes OCATT (Orange County Auto Theft Task Force, TracKRS (Task Force review aimed at catching Killers, Rapists, and Sexual Offenders, OCRCFL (Orange County Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory) which by the way has been internationally accredited, JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force), DEA Task Force, Urban Auto Task Force, TARGET, OC GRIP (Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention and Partnership), and Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
It should be noted that the Cold Case Homicide Task Force which has only been in existence since July 2014, has led to a filing of a murder charge for a 1989 murder.
In the next four years, I hope more law enforcement agencies join the Orange County Human Trafficking Force because these types of criminals do not stop at city boundaries, and they will go from one city to another. I am very excited about the Cold Case Homicide Task Force, because we can never forget about those who were murdered. We know their families will not and we must continue to seek justice.
I don’t know how many of you have had a chance to watch the movie “Unbroken,” which is about Louis Zamperini who grew up as a son of poor Italian immigrants who became an Olympic Athlete and a war hero who survived 47 days after being shot down in open sea and survived horrific abuse for two years in a prisoner-of-war camp. After attending the University of Southern California on a track scholarship, he loved to raise his hand in a victory sign and say, “Fight on!” even when he was in his 90s. That will, determination and perseverance that can never be broken, no matter how difficult the situation, is how we must work in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. You don’t “fight on” when things are easy. You “fight on” when you don’t have all of the resources, people make up lies about you in the press and in court to further their agenda, and your cases are hard to investigate and prove.
Henry Ford said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”
As a prosecutor, we must do the right things, especially when no one is looking. We make the tough calls and sometimes make unpopular decisions, and must even look out for the rights of the guilty. And I am so proud to have witnessed, time and time again, the people in our office who do the right things when no one is looking, and there are no headlines to give them kudos. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished in the last four years, and since 1999. The public safety in Orange County is holding steady, and growing stronger, more efficient every day, but I firmly believe there is a lot of unfinished work.
President Reagan gave probably one of his most difficult State of the Union addresses, after it had been postponed for a week after America lost seven lives to the Challenger tragedy.
In it he said, “We paused together to mourn and honor the valor of our seven Challenger heroes and I hope we are now ready to do what they would want us to do — Go forward America, and reach for the stars.”
In our work as prosecutors, our greatest privilege is to work with the victims of crime and to stand up for those who were harmed. We invoke Marsy’s Law every time in court and remind them of their rights. And in their honor, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office vows to go forward, and reach for the stars.
As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. In fact, maybe we should just go back across the street right now. I know we have set some big goals, but I know we can achieve it by working together and reaching for the stars.
Thank you all for attending and thank you for your commitment to public safety. Hope to see you in four years.
God bless each and every person here.