Richard Negrin wants a "community-based" DA's Office
The former City's Managing Director proposes to give a comprehensive approach to the mission of the judicial body of Philadelphia. He says that the secret to reducing crime is working directly with people, in the city's neighborhoods.
With just over a week until the primary election, the race to name the Democratic Party’s candidate for District Attorney does not have a guaranteed winner. Maybe it’s because, for so long, we haven’t seen a campaign so full of hopefuls interested in inheriting the troubled office chief prosecutor Seth Williams will leave behind.
This is precisely why Philadelphians, particularly Latinos, who have for the first time a leading candidate for a city-wide office, should attend the polling stations on May 16th en masse: the day the next prosecutor of Philadelphia will be chosen.
This will be the day the person who is going to direct the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminals will be selected. Choosing the right person is no small feat in times when xenophobic madness has taken over the White House and Philadelphia scores the highest poverty rates and prison population in the country.
So whoever is elected on May 16th, that person must guarantee, first, that the criminal justice system won’t be used anymore to pile up the prisons with the poor, and, second, he or she must re-establish the DA’s Office credibility and transparency.
This campaign is still paradoxical. While the race for the District Attorney's Office takes place in an off-year election, and predicts a weak turnout for the primaries, this is the first time that a Latino candidate has a real chance of being elected in a city-wide election.
Among the candidates is Richard Negrin, former director of the City's Managing Office, and recently highlighted by the Philadelphia Inquirer for being a candidate whose experience as a civil servant "is a big plus" for an entity with a 52 billion dollars budget and that employs almost 600 people.
Its main goal is to make the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office an entity that not only pursues equitable justice for us, but also serves as an articulating nucleus of efforts to reduce gun violence in the neighborhoods, to combat the epidemic of opioids, and to reduce mass incarceration, all with an integral and preventive approach.
To achieve this, Negrin is planning to create a community engagement unit that works closely with community leaders and engages in off-school programs to keep young people out of the reach of criminal gangs. At this point, Negrin says he wants every district attorney to be a mentor to the city's children.
In several debates and forums, Negrin has expressed support for reform within the judicial system that "decriminalizes poverty". Although he maintains a somewhat ambiguous position on issues such as "stop-and-frisk" (which he says is good as long as he implements all normative standards) and the death penalty, his stance against the civil asset forfeiture or the imposition of cash bails bonds, shows a man aware of the profound inequity and uselessness of these measures.
Since announcing his aspiration to the City’s District Attorney’s Office, this seasoned attorney has been able to tap into the support of six police organizations and syndicates - some of them highly controversial, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5 - and other personalities, among which curiously few Latino names are found.
We need to start putting our community ahead of our personal agendas.
On this particular topic and his vision of what the Prosecutor's Office should be from January 2018 on, Negrin spoke with AL DÍA News.
The following are separate from this dialogue:
I want to create a community-based model. I want to redesign the mission and core role of the DA, consistent with a lot of the work that I started as City Managing Director around a community-based model, I call it community engagement.
I want to create a community engagement unit within the District Attorney’s Office that is not just about going out to town halls and having conversations. I want it to be more like what we did around PhillyRising in the City of Philadelphia, where we were specifically connecting to stakeholders, listening to them, preventing crime before it happens by building trust in our communities. I think that is different and they’ve never done that.
It is really difficult because we have so many significant social and economic issues that drive crime: poverty is one, opportunity is one, [...] after-school programs and education is part of it as well; I think DA’s can play a role there, I think we can be active in after school programs much in the way that I did as the City’s Managing Director.
I can give an example: there are 650 employees in the DA's office, I want each of them to be a big brother or sister, to mentor a child in a community that we serve. I want each of them to commit some level of service projects where we’re not just showing up and speaking at community events, like a lot of public officials do.
I want them to adopt neighborhoods and zones, and to work aggressively with that system in a way that they are proactive and engaged.
There is this saying that I say all the time, “The first time that a young person meets a DA he shouldn’t be trying to lock him up,” that’s a different model, your DA is a community partner who is there not just to fight crime today, but to help to create opportunity and prevent crime 5, 10 and 15 years down the road.
I want to be a role model for our kids, especially on the Latino side. I don’t talk about that a lot but this is a historical election, we can have the first elected Hispanic District Attorney in Philadelphia.
I want to be able to look at our young people of color across the city, black and Latino, and say to them that, “You too can also be the first in your family who goes to college, to law school, to make a difference, play in the NFL.”
The core mission of a District Attorney needs to be to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system.
It is the DA who holds officers who committed bad acts accountable, it is the DA that has to be appropriately analyzing, charging, disposing of cases and sentencing folks, and making recommendations. If you are not doing that well, if there is a question about your integrity and your motives, if they’re perceived to be politically motivated or if they’re perceived to be interested in some way or another or if you are perceived to be compromised from an integrity perspective, that impacts the entire culture and sends the wrong message.
So I’ve gotten a reputation - especially when I went to the Board of Revision of Taxes when it was in crisis. I went to the Managing Director’s Office and I hope to do the same thing [as DA]. I am prepared for this. I am the only candidate in this race who has managed large organizations and we don’t have time for on-the-job training, the issues are too important.
I want the DA Office to support Mayor Jim Kenney’s sanctuary city policy. I want the DA’s Office to give folks comfort and to make them feel safe.
As a Cuban-American, I can tell my experience was unique in that our immigrants need to understand that sanctuary is not a dirty word. I am proud of that word and I’m gonna wear it. Philadelphia should be a sanctuary city, it was for William Penn when he couldn’t practice his religion in England, and it should be the same for our Muslims brothers and sisters.
We [shouldn’t] be turning our police officers into deputized ICE agents, their job is hard enough. We’re not going to build trust in our communities if our officers are walking around and asking for their papers.
We need a DA’s Office that represents the diversity of our city. When I left the DA's Office in 2000, there were about three or four Latinos in the entire office, that’s embarrassing. When I got to the City of Philadelphia, in the Managing Director’s Office we took diversity from 38% to 84% in five years, mostly with women of color.
I proved in the Managing Director’s Office that in order for you to really provide excellence you need to be diverse. It’s not about you doing the right thing, it’s about how you represent a city as diverse as Philadelphia.
I applied the “Rooney Rule” in the Managing Director's Office.The NFL decided that there weren't enough head coaches of color. So whenever there is a major opening, they are required to interview diverse candidates. You don't have to hire a diverse candidate, you just have to hire the best person and by doing that, you find great diverse candidates and they get hired.
Everything I am talking about, by the way, is something I know because I've been a manager in things that matter, which is a big difference between me and the other candidates.
I think we need to start putting our community ahead of our personal agendas. We need to engage our folks. When you say that Latino community doesn't vote at the same margins as others I think that part of that is our fault: because we're not putting great candidates together - I hope they vote in bigger numbers this time around because of me, because they are excited about my candidacy.
There is a rich tradition of political involvement in the Latino community, people get involved, people volunteer, people show up... and we need to drastically improve that and then get them to vote.
We need to show up and register and vote and be a force in the city in terms of politics. There should be great Latino candidates in every election, we should be represented on the school board to the DA’s Office.
I do. When you look at what happened in the presidential election in November, and you look at what happened in Canada, for example, why the Canadians are embracing democracy more than Americans, I don't like that, it's awesome for them but they vote at a significantly higher rate than the United States and that was a presidential election. In off-year elections, we have low turnout and that's a problem, and I'm worried about that.
So I'm doing everything that's possible to get not just the Latino community vote, but all communities that are excited about my candidacy.