Court watch objectives:
- To represent the neighborhood’s interest in the criminal justice system
- To assist local police and prosecutors to more effectively address criminal and nuisance activity
- To enhance awareness among judges and prosecutors of the effects that problematic individuals have on our neighborhood so these issues can be taken into consideration in case prioritization and sentencing.
- To send a message to those engaging in criminal and nuisance activity that criminal activity has no place in our neighborhood, and that the immediately surrounding community will respond accordingly.
How you can help:
We need as many volunteers as possible to attend court hearings. Cases often come up on short notice. We maintain a special distribution list for court watch volunteers. This is more a hit-or-miss deal – not all volunteers can make every hearing. The larger our pool of volunteers, the more likely we will “hit.” On average, court watch volunteers attend one or two hearings per month, and we receive several hearing notices during a busy month.
How our court watch efforts work:
We assist police and prosecutors by documenting and reporting problematic individuals and chronic patterns. When the police arrest individuals bringing crime and disorder to our neighborhood, we pull together volunteers from the neighborhood to be present at key court hearings. This lets judges and prosecutors understand that we depend on them in our efforts toward a safer and more orderly neighborhood.
Why court watch efforts are so important:
Street criminals often take advantage of the fact that the jails may be overcrowded, the community is not watching, or certain kinds of cases do not normally receive high priority. As a result, many street criminals quickly wind up right back where they were arrested. What may appear to a judge or prosecutor to be a routine case could really be part of a larger problem for the community. When judges see that members of the community are concerned enough to appear in court, they need to give not only extra attention to the details of the case itself, but also to critical factors surrounding the case – like community impact.
How cases are prioritized:
According to our community prosecutor, judges rely heavily on prioritization in handing down prison sentences.
- Violent crimes certainly receive the highest priority for incarceration, which normally result in a prison sentence the first time around.
- Property crimes are normally medium-level priority, which only sometimes result in prison terms upon the first offense.
- Drug offenses are among the lower of priorities, and those convicted of felony drug offenses are usually not given prison terms until about the third time around.
Our successes to date
The court watch program has been a crucial part of our strategy for a safer and more orderly neighborhood for several years now, and becomes more effective with time. Several serious criminals, most notably Ricky Love and Kenneth Lamb, have been effectively removed from our streets when they would have otherwise been treated like routine cases without any extra attention by judges and prosecutors. Because of the reputation that our court watch program is developing, some defendants try to quietly negotiate sentences in order to avoid a trial with neighborhood court watch volunteers present. One chronic criminal even bolted from the court room when he found out that court watch volunteers were present for his trial. In the long run more criminals will steer clear of our neighborhood once they understand that members of the immediately surrounding community will pursue their cases proactively.
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