Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg appeared before county commissioners Tuesday to request additional funding for 82 new prosecutors in 2022. Ogg seeks additional staffing to address three “crime drivers” spiking Harris County’s homicide and criminal victimization rates: repeat violent offenders, domestic violence and gang crime.
“As the authority charged with both the administration of equal justice and the protection of public safety,” Ogg said, “the District Attorney’s Office plays a critical role in assisting police and prosecuting every (non-federal) criminal case in Harris County.”
With 134,800 pending criminal cases, Ogg says that the backlog of serious cases, especially those involving violence, should not languish.
To support her request, Ogg cited three recent studies recommending additional prosecutors. Two of those studies were funded by Commissioners Court and one by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “Because Harris County has the lowest number of prosecutors per capita in America’s major cities, Harris County commissioners must add more prosecutors to meet the public safety needs of the 5 million people they represent.”
Ogg and other county leaders were asked to present their departmental budget proposals to the Commissioners Court, the funding body responsible for all Harris County departments and services. The four commissioners and county judge are scheduled to vote January 25 on the county’s 2022 budget. Because of a planned change in Harris County’s fiscal year, this year’s budget will end August 31.
“The District Attorney’s Office is key to public safety measures totaling more than $10 million already adopted by the commissioners, including their violence interruption program, the targeted criminal hotspot strategy and even City Council’s recent approval of ShotSpotter,” Ogg said of the gunshot-detection system. “Without a sufficient number of prosecutors to handle the anticipated increase in criminal cases solved and filed, these programs will not make the public safer because a large percentage of offenders will be released on bail. The more violent repeat offenders released to the street while awaiting trial, the more violent crime will be inflicted on innocent people.”
More prosecutors would also permanently staff DA Intake, the 24/7, 365-days-per-year division in which prosecutors assist more than 13,000 police officers from 87 law enforcement agencies by reviewing evidence and filing criminal charges.
As part of her presentation, Ogg listed some of the major accomplishments of the District Attorney’s Office during the past five years, including:
- An increase of service to crime victims from assisting approximately 2,300 people in 2017 to approximately 19,000 in 2021.
- The diversion of more than 4,400 mentally ill, non-violent offenders to treatment instead of jail from 2018 to 2021, reducing recidivism by nearly 50 percent.
- The collection and distribution of $30 million in restitution for crime victims since January 2017.
- The diversion of approximately 20,000 drug offenders in low-level marijuana cases to case conclusions which do not leave them with criminal records.
- The continuation of quality prosecutorial services without interruption by essential employees through Hurricane Harvey, the pandemic and the freeze.