Every once in a while we get the opportunity to opine positively without telling anyone that they should do something to fix a problem. This is one of those days:
“They’re very involved with us all the time. We can ask them for anything. This is not a fluff thing … The kids love it.”
Dunbar Elementary School Principal Ann Lewis is describing U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer’s Violence Reduction Partnership — a program aimed at reducing crime in South Florida’s so-called “hot spots.”
These are crime-ridden neighborhoods, many in the inner city, where drug dealers and thugs have terrorized residents, frequently with drive-by shootings that kill innocent children who just wanted to play outside like ordinary kids.
The partnership, begun in October 2011, isn’t the first by law enforcers to reach out to inner-city students, but it is certainly one of the most comprehensive. Mr. Ferrer sees his office as not just the place where the good guys put the bad guys away, but also where his prosecutors are active crusaders operating in the community to combat and reduce crime. The U.S. attorney’s office has partnered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the United Way and nonprofits like Tools for Change.
Federal prosecutors act as mentors and teachers. They also supply school books, backpacks and computers.
They talk to students about the court process, hold mock trials and conduct workshops on stopping bullying and recognizing Internet predators. They have also held job fairs and career days in Overtown, helping young adults and ex-felons find training and jobs.
That goes way beyond a federal prosecutor’s job description. A cadre of prosecutors is monitoring students’ grades at Booker T. Washington High School, keeping in regular touch with students and watching for signs of trouble so that they can help students rather than have to prosecute them down the road.
Prosecutors volunteer in Liberty City and Miami Gardens, as well as Overtown. They have also begun to work in areas of Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. That hasn’t kept them from their day jobs, however. Over the past two years Mr. Ferrer’s office has prosecuted roughly 90 violent offenders on drug and gun charges, working in tandem with federal agents and local police to put away career criminals who plague many low-income neighborhoods.
In the process, Mr. Ferrer’s prosecutors have begun to change how some residents, especially youths, in minority communities view law-enforcement agents. There now are more positive connections between inner-city students and the police and prosecutors who enforce the law.
“When one of the prosecutors first came over here, one kid said, ‘You’re the ones who send people to jail,’ but this gives them the opposite side of what they’re used to, because some of these kids have parents who are incarcerated,” Principal Lewis told the Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver. Then she told him how much the students like the prosecutors’ involvement in Dunbar Elementary.
South Florida has a wealth of such civic involvement. State attorneys’ and public defenders’ offices throughout the region also work in the community and reach out to reduce violent crime in many neighborhoods. And they do a good job of it. But Mr. Ferrer is definitely giving a new meaning to the term “crusading prosecutor” — and he should be commended for it.