Angel Flores, Bureau Chief of East Division District Attorney Office, speaks at FNA meeting Thursday July 21.
Assistant District Attorney Angel Flores visited the Fishtown Neighbors Association last week to discuss how “zone prosecution” works in the city and, specifically, how it’s made a significant impact on crime in the river wards.
Flores said in the nine months since the city implemented the zone prosecution method in the East Division — which covers neighborhoods in the 26th, 25th and 24th police districts including Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond — the district attorney’s office has seen a 25 percent increase in prosecutions.
Flores said that, in the past, many cases “tended to die early on,” with witnesses unable to testify or other issues keeping prosecutors from taking a cases to court.
A higher prosecution rate is very important, especially in the East Division, which Flores said has a higher rate of arrest — a higher crime rate — than any other area in the city.
“By far, East has the highest crime rate,” he told the audience during the July 21 FNA meeting.
“The drug trade is rampant in our area,” Flores said. “We, as prosecutors, can’t do our jobs by simply sitting in our office in Center City.”
While campaigning for office in 2009, District Attorney Seth Williams said Philadelphia had a “broken system” and on Nov. 1 of last year, the new system, which cuts the city into six geographic zones — matching the Philadelphia Police Detectives areas of Southwest, Northwest, Central, East, South and Northeast — was put in place.
With a total of 16 prosecutors, Flores said East District has more than any other division.
“We couldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” said Flores. “It was broken.”
Under the new system, the same prosecutors work the same geographic regions, which Flores said allows the district attorney’s office to become familiar with not only the community, but also the problem individuals within the community.
As an example, he said, the office recently identified about five people that they believe were responsible for a string of burglaries throughout Port Richmond and Fishtown.
“[Before] you were never able to have this level of intelligence,” he said. “Our zone prosecution will survive or fail based on our dealings with the community.”
Flores used his time before the FNA to discuss this prosecution method as well as the district attorney’s Public Nuisance Task Force, a special unit that targets problem bars, drug houses and other nuisance properties.
The task force, he said, makes a deep impact on the quality of life in communities because it targets the common, everyday problems that can drag down entire neighborhoods.
Recalling a recent trip to New York City, Flores said he was surprised at how clean the city was. In talking to residents, he learned that the streets were cleaned and problem properties were addressed through an initiative of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“It’s these little issues that need to be handled and have teeth behind it, because it really makes a difference,” he said, noting any push needs to have power to enforce the laws.
Caroline Cruz, an assistant district attorney with the nuisance task force, told residents how to contact the office if they have concerns about a problem property or if they are willing to share information that could help them address problem locations.
“If you have information, we are interested,” she said. “The more you have, the more we can run with it.”
Also, the representatives from the district attorney’s office discussed an upcoming auction of seized properties through the Barry S. Slosberg auctioneers at 2501 E. Ontario St., to be held in late October.
Finally, discussing the district attorney’s office outreach programs, Flores discussed the Community Action Center located in the Piazza at Schmidts, near the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Second Street in Northern Liberties.
He said the district attorney’s office is still “finding the best way to use it” and is open to suggestions from the community for ideas.
Flores said self-defense classes, training meetings for Town Watch groups or simply allowing residents to use it as a meeting space are all options on the table.
“Whatever the community wants to do with it,” he said.
For more information or to learn about how to contact the District Attorney’s office’s Public Nuisance Task Force, visit the web site at www.phila.gov/districtattorney.••