Special Programs in the State Attorney’s Office
Juvenile Division Special Programs
Community Prosecuting Attorney Service System COMPASS
The State Attorney’s Office partners with community policing, local services providers, and area residents and merchants to divert young people from negative behavior into positive futures. The State Attorney’s Office maintains two alternative sanctions programs that assist youth in understanding and taking responsibility for their decisions by diverting their cases and thus saving them from accumulating a serious criminal record.
Retail Theft Diversion and Abatement Program
This program originally began as part of the 2006 COMPASS federal initiative to divert youth with first time non-violent offenses. An analysis of the cases referred for the office indicated that a significant number of these offenses were related to retail theft. In 2008 the program was directed solely at this problem and youth who were referred to the office for prosecution were directed to specially training legal and support staff. After reviewing the youth’s criminal history, a family meeting was arranged and the staff interviewed the child and the parent(s) to determine the most useful intervention and sanctions for each case. The defendant was then diverted from normal prosecution, and in lieu of appearing in court was required to perform community service, work on their education, attend self-help and if necessary substance abuse classes, and demonstrate that they understood the risk and results of retail theft. The program was so successful that the attorney assigned to the program won the Retail Theft Prosecutor of the year award for the State of Florida. The result is that juveniles who have made the mistake of committing retail theft, are enrolled in a program and if successful, emerge from their contact with the justice system with improved grades and decision making skills rather than a criminal record.
Gang Abatement and Avoidance Program
Criminal street gangs pose a significant threat to the young people of Pinellas County. Through a Congressional Earmark award, both legal and support staff for the program work with youth identified as at risk of becoming significantly involved with criminal street gangs. If documented as gang members, the cases are referred to a specially trained prosecutor who handles these cases in close coordination with local law enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Gangs pose such a significant threat that sanctions imposed on these youth as part of the case disposition significantly limit the defendant’s contact with other gang members, prohibits them from being in specific areas where the gangs are operational and restricts them from obtaining gang tattoos and wearing gang clothing. For those youth who school resource officers, community leaders, family members, or other interested parties believe are at risk of becoming significantly involved in gang related behavior, there are programs at the community level to assist these young people in resisting gang recruitment and participation in gang-related behavior.
Adult Division Special Program
Project Safe Neighborhood Anti-Gang Initiative
In 2006, the office received a federal Project Safe Neighborhoods Anti-Gang Initiative grant which funded a full time prosecutor in the adult felony divisions to handle cases involving documented members of criminal street gangs. The State Attorney’s Office joined with law enforcement agencies throughout the area in sharing information and intelligence in an attempt to provide better documentation on the activities of over 60 individual threat groups within the jurisdiction. In the past 4 years, the program has handled over 350 documented gang members.
While the philosophy in the juvenile anti-gang program is related to protecting youth from exposure to the threat of gang involvement, the emphasis on the program in the adult divisions is to use every means possible to hold identified gang members responsible for their crimes and if possible, remove them from the community. This interrupts their activities and organizational capabilities and in turn cripples the ability of the gang to continue its criminal enterprise. Thus, the assigned prosecutors handle cases for these individuals in misdemeanor and felony divisions with an aggressive profile for prosecution making sure that the gang association is well known to the Court and demonstrating the impact that membership has. Utilizing all the legal tools available to enhance sentencing, the prosecutors are able to secure significant sentences for documented gang members and leaders.