BEND, OR -- The Deschutes County District Attorney says he needs to hire 12 new employees to keep up with the current caseload. "I can no longer guarantee to the public that me and my team can well represent them. We’re understaffed and overworked," John Hummel said during a Wednesday press conference, "The guilty are being set free, the innocent are not being quickly exonerated and victims of crime are not being made whole." He says being short-staffed has led to low morale and high turnover at his office, "Victims are not receiving restitution as often as they should – victims, that too often are not notified of important court hearings, attorneys too often are unprepared for trial and as a result sometimes a guilty person is acquitted."
D.A. Hummel wants county officials to approve an additional $1.1 million to hire four new prosecutors and eight other support staff. "I’ve asked the budget committee to add employees to the District Attorney’s office so we can continue to offer full prosecution services to our community. Another option for the budget committee is to keep the staffing level the same as it is. If that’s the case, I’ll unfortunately have to reduce the services that my office provides to the community." Those services he proposes cutting include prosecuting low-level offenders, like shoplifters. Instead, his office would focus on major crimes like rape and murder.
He says the staffing problem has grown over time and is the result of a combination of factors. Hummel believes more residents, more tourists and more law enforcement officers on the street have contributed to a higher number of arrests, "We have 11 pending homicides, which is the most pending in Deschutes County’s history. We have 350 cases that are sitting in our office that are not assigned to review because of the backlog." He also says chronic underfunding has contributed to a long-standing trend. Hummel says he's asked for additional money each budget year since taking office, but those were never fully funded. "Deschutes County government has sufficient resources to approve this request," he says, "There is sufficient resources to adequately fund the District Attorney’s office." He believes the money could be re-allocated from the general fund, "I've pointed the budget committee to three sources of revenue they could consider." Hummel says the county gets $300,000 each year from the marijuana sales tax, as well as close to $7 million annually from the Transient Room Tax. He says both of those sources can legally be tapped for the D.A.'s office. There's also a reserve fund he says is projected at $11.6 million.
Budget hearings aren't until May, but Hummel says he wants the community to have time to get involved in the conversation, "The public deserves to weigh in on important issues that impact their safety. It would be completely inappropriate for me to go to the budget hearings, ask for 12 new positions, and if the budget committee said 'no,' then make the cuts."
Photos: D.A. John Hummel announces plans to request additional funding, surrounded by lead prosecutors and managers.