A Prosecutor’s Purpose

Melissa Howden

When District Attorney Barbara Romo took office a year and a half 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 have also participated 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 to name a few.

Our offices have hosted chamber of commerce after-hours open houses in both Sandoval and Cibola counties. Our hope is that in the not too distance future we will be able to do the same with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce in our Cibola County office.

With the new school year starting, we have begun a new initiative with the schools. We have 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.

The subjects of importance to young people will include truancy, consent, bullying and cyber bullying, sexting, gangs, assault and drinking and driving. 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. One school in Los Lunas has already requested that addition to student presentations, they would like to include a parent’s night.

We do not yet know what format a parent’s night will take. It may take the form of a town hall or something else entirely. Our intention is to serve the schools and the students in the manner which 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 and agencies just one of which is the district attorney’s office. So too does the DA’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 too are of course important. 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 in which 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 13thSpecialPrograms@da.state.nm.us

 

(Melissa Howden, M.A., MFA, is the chief administrative officer for the 13th Judicial District Attorney.)

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Melissa Howden, guest columnist