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DA says budget cuts will weaken prosecution

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Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Friday cuts in city and state funding to his office could mean crime in the borough will increase at the same time his staff lacks the basic resources to prosecute a rising number of cases.

Brown, speaking during his annual legislative breakfast held at his Kew Gardens office, said the loss of 38 assistant district attorneys in the face of rising caseloads because of funding constraints could put an end to Queens’ status as having the highest conviction rate in the city.

“Our budget has been reduced by some 20 percent and as a result, I am very concerned that we have reached the point where our ability to maintain the gains of the last decade in reducing crime is in jeopardy.”

He said that since January 2002, caseloads at the Queens district attorney’s office jumped by 47 percent, from 95 cases per assistant district attorney to the current 140.

Brown said his office has lost $6 million in city funding since July 2001 on top of an end to state and federal grants.

The DA has said cuts to his and other district attorneys’ offices are unfair and should be paired to any cuts made to the Police Department. He said funding decreases to district attorneys weaken the whole criminal justice system despite funding increases for police to put more officers on city streets.

To rein in spending following the funding reductions, the DA said he reduced his staff from 320 prosecutors to the current 262 and lost seven investigators and 35 paralegals. He said there is still a hiring freeze in place and that other staff reductions are taking place through attrition.

Last year Queens County led New York City in violent crime reductions and the borough had the city’s highest conviction rate among the district attorneys’ offices. He said the targets of a majority of his investigations have been drug traffickers, organized crime mobsters and auto theft and auto insurance fraud rings.

But Brown painted a grimmer future for the borough if substantial amounts of funding are not restored.

“My message to you this morning is that there are no more rabbits to pull out of the hat. The hemorrhaging has got to stop,” Brown said. “There are already signs on our streets that criminals are becoming more confident and more brazen about dealing drugs and carrying weapons.”

Addressing legislators at the event, who included Borough President Helen Marshall, the DA added:

“But the bottom line is that we need you — more than ever before — to help us get the resources necessary to continue to reduce the level of violence within the county and improve the quality of the lives of our residents.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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