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Role of the Multnomah County District Attorney in Order Maintenance: 1990-2000

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2001
47 pages
Publication Series
This description and analysis of the work of deputy district attorneys assigned to the Multnomah County (Oregon) District Attorney's community prosecution unit argues that citizenry demands for attention to low-level problems of public order are drawing the District Attorney's Office into the task of order maintenance previously left to the police, such that prosecutors are shifting from their traditional focus on adversarial litigation.
The Portland Neighborhood District Attorney (NDA) unit is unique in its assignment of eight deputy district attorneys to work full-time on citizen-identified, quality-of-life issues (the popular term for order maintenance). This report describes the genesis of the NDA unit; other events in Portland of which the NDA unit was but one part; the geography of the drug and disorder problem that was the impetus for the formation of the NDA unit; and events in one neighborhood for a decade, which exemplify the essential features of the organizational changes that are emerging over time. The information presented in this report was collected over a period of 7 years, beginning in March 1994 through July 2000, including 12 weeks on site. The primary sources of information were the attorneys, citizens, and police officers involved in the activities described, as well as others involved in similar activities throughout the city. Data were collected through interviews, on-site observation, analysis of monthly attorney work reports, public documents such as action plans, a daily review of Portland's major newspaper, and statistical reports from a variety of sources. Findings showed that the NDA brought a variety of skills to the collective efforts to address public order and drug-dealing in the downtown area. The NDA's brought to this effort what no other resource could bring, i.e., their knowledge of the law and the power of the DA's office to invoke the law to address behaviors that for the most part were problems of public order. The NDA used those areas of the legal code that regulate mostly minor offenses against public order, in which the primary goal is maintaining the public peace rather than punishment of the perpetrators. The solutions devised did not depend for the most part on invoking the adversarial process or the deprivations of liberty associated with the adversarial process. Operationally, the police must intervene on the community's behalf, and when police intervention alone does not result in compliance, it is the NDA's who defend the community's right to intervene by making sure the legal and operational capacity is in place to bring violators in front of a judge, who can affirm the legality of the intervention. 5 tables and a 47-item bibliography

Date Published: December 1, 2001