A prosecutor’s purpose
When District Attorney Barbara Romo took office almost two years ago she said, “I intend for this office to be seen as a value to the community not just as something that puts bad guys in jail.”
One of the initial actions taken toward the goal of full community engagement was to encourage our staff to engage in community service. By giving staff time off for volunteer hours, we have made it increasingly possible for staff and their families, to invest in the communities of our district.
This initiative has supplemented and supported the work that is already taking place in the communities of the 13th Judicial District. For example, staff members have participated in fundraising and awareness walks for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and contributed to a drive for clothing and hygiene supplies for women in the emergency shelters Haven House and Valencia County Shelter Services and helped with food assistance and distribution through People Helping People.
Staff members have “adopted” families in shelters for the holidays and some of our attorneys have volunteered as judges for high school mock trials. The Sandoval County office annually supports Leadership Sandoval County at one of the largest community events in the district, the football game between rivals Rio Rancho and Cleveland high schools with giveaways, informational presentations and community games led by the SWAT team.
We also continue to participate in parades and community awareness events hosted by many of our valued partners in the community such as Valencia County Shelter Services, Guardians of the Children Rio Grande Chapter, National Night Out sponsored by the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, and the Los Lunas and Belen Rotary Clubs and the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce to name a few.
Our offices have hosted chamber of commerce after hours open houses in both Sandoval and Cibola counties. Our hope is in the not too distant future we will be able to do the same with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce in our Valencia County office.
When the new school year started, we began an initiative with the schools. We reached out to all the principals in middle and high schools throughout the 13th Judicial District to initiate education programs in the schools presented by District Attorney Romo and other staff members on subjects of import to young people for example, truancy, consent, bullying and cyber bullying, sexting, gangs, assault, and drinking and driving and drugs.
In the context of this program, school officials let us know which topics would be the best for them, for the appropriate age group and what format will serve them best. In some cases, it may be a school-wide assembly, in others a classroom-by-classroom approach.
Thus far, District Attorney Romo and Chief Deputy Jessica Martinez have given numerous presentations at Belen High School, Infinity High School and Bernalillo High School to students. Upcoming, we have a few family nights on the calendar.
We don’t know yet know what format these evenings will take. They may be in the form of a town hall or something else entirely. Our intention is to serve the schools and the students in the manner which best meets their needs. The schools take the lead.
This is a pilot program for us. Once we have a strong foothold, we hope to expand the offerings to senior centers, veterans groups and more. The criminal justice system is a series of interlocking partnerships just one of which is the district attorney’s office. So too does the district attorney’s office interlock in partnership within the communities we serve.
The effectiveness of our partnership with the community cannot ride just on conviction rates though those are of utmost importance. The district attorney’s office sees the importance of our activities in terms of the impact on our neighborhoods and the necessity to adapt to the needs of our communities in whatever ways possible. This is the way we can invest in the communities in which we work and create meaningful impact one event, one school, one community at a time.
If your organization or school would like to partner with us on a community education and engagement program, please reach out to us by writing to [email protected]
We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.
(Melissa A. Howden is the chief administrative officer of the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.)