City of Huntington Beach Launches Community Prosecutor Program
By: Michael E. Gates, City Attorney
Even before I took office in December of 2014, I campaigned on strengthening the City Attorney’s support of law enforcement, specifically the work of our Huntington Beach police, and working to enhance the quality of life throughout the City. Since I assumed office, I have worked relentlessly toward those ends; and another significant milestone in that regard comes with the addition of our new Deputy Community Prosecutor, Michelle Ditzhazy. Ms. Ditzhazy joins the City Attorney’s Office, bringing years of experience prosecuting both felonies such as sexual assaults, child abuse, and domestic violence, and misdemeanors such as violations of restraining orders, assaults, and drug possession. She has experience engaging the community through prosecutor outreach programs and she has experience providing guidance and training to law enforcement.
Ms. Ditzhazy’s focus for the City will be to prosecute crimes, work as a liaison for the homeless with the Community (Homeless) Court in Santa Ana, and work to crack down on illegal businesses, such as the marijuana retailers that have been proliferating throughout the City in recent months. By way of context, the Police Department makes over 5,000 arrests in the City each year, 80% of which are misdemeanors – that is, violations of the CA Penal Code and the City’s local Municipal Code. Until now, Huntington Beach has always referred all of its felony and misdemeanors crimes to the Orange County District Attorney for further handling and prosecution. Now, things are different. While the Community Prosecutor program will retain a number of all of the crimes committed in the City for in-house prosecution, all others will still be referred to the Orange County District Attorney for prosecution. This City Attorney Prosecutor Program is going to focus on crime areas of Huntington Beach, tackling drug possession, public intoxication, trespassing, vandalism, and other public nuisance type crimes that heavily impact the quality of residential life and the quality of our business community throughout the City and in the downtown area.
The concept of a Community Prosecutor program in the City Attorney’s Office began almost two years ago and came after many conversations with the Police Chief, Rob Handy, other Huntington Beach police officers, the Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas, and many other people in law enforcement. Under the City’s Charter, the City Attorney has always had the authority to prosecute crimes; although there has never been a criminal prosecution program in the City Attorney’s Office. The authority to prosecute CA State Penal Code violations specifically was recently conferred to me by a memorialized agreement from Mr. Rackauckas. After that agreement was made in 2016, and thanks to Mr. Rackauckas, the Mayor and Members of the City Council then approved my proposal for the Deputy Community Prosecutor addition to the City Attorney’s Office. We are grateful to Ms. Ditzhazy for joining the City Attorney’s Office and undertaking this very important function, and we thank Mr. Rackauckas, the Police Chief, the Mayor, Members of the City Council, and the community in Huntington Beach for making this new program possible.