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Candidate commentary

Mosher: We can achieve criminal justice reforms in Pima County

The American criminal justice system suffers from problems of mass incarceration, racial and ethnic disparities, the futile imposition of punishment instead of treatment for the medical condition of addiction, and the killing of unarmed people of color by vigilantes and law enforcement officers. The state of Arizona and Pima County are not immune from these problems.

To solve these problems, we need dramatic criminal justice reform, and we need it now. We need police reform, drug policy reform, and a new prosecution philosophy.

There are specific, achievable reforms in all three of these categories that I plan to implement quickly in Pima County if elected to the position of county attorney.

Campaign Zero has launched a campaign promoting eight police reforms that cannot wait. These include: banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation training, requiring officers to intervene to stop abuse by other officers, requiring a verbal warning before shooting, exhausting all alternatives before shooting, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring a use of force continuum, and requiring comprehensive reporting. The only cost associated with these reforms is to edit existing police manuals and to prepare and present the training required for all officers to implement them. The Tucson Police Department has done this. Other local law enforcement agencies should do this, as well. This includes: the Sheriff's Department; the municipal police departments of the towns of Oro Valley, Marana, and Sahuarita, as well as the city of South Tucson; and the University of Arizona and Pima Community College police departments.

As county attorney, serving as the civil legal advisor to the Sheriff's Department and Pima County, I would be in a position to explain the benefits in reduced exposure to civil liability that could accrue from such policy reforms.

These eight police reforms truly cannot wait and are a good start, but we need more. All patrol officers at all local law enforcement agencies should be required to use body-worn cameras. This includes the Sheriff's Department. Both as lead prosecutor, and as civil legal advisor to the sheriff, I would be in a good position to persuade both the sheriff, and the county administrator and Board of Supervisors, of the benefits of deploying these cameras for all deputies on patrol, including improved evidence of criminal activity, defense against unfair allegations of law enforcement misconduct, and clear evidence of misconduct when it occurs allowing for quick discipline. Additionally, I would be in a good position to explain why those multiple benefits outweigh the costs - both the financial cost and the cost of loss of public trust incurred by virtue of a lack of transparency.

Body-worn cameras are not terribly expensive in terms of the hardware equipment. However, there are significant costs associated with data storage, software, and personnel needed to perform redactions of confidential information (such as victim names and addresses) prior to public disclosure of video recordings. These costs must be incurred both by law enforcement agencies and by prosecution agencies (the county attorney and the municipal attorneys), because they must perform redaction (blacking out confidential images and audio) prior to disclosure of digital video recordings to defense attorneys. The costs in the long run may be outweighed by the savings in reduced liability. Meanwhile, in the short run, revenue sources to pay for this initially could include federal grants or anti-racketeering funds, and later could include cost shifting from savings generated by other reforms.

There needs to be an independent statewide task force to investigate excessive force allegations. And there also should be an independent prosecution agency to decide whether a case involves excessive force and what criminal charges should be filed in these cases. Establishing an independent task force for investigation and an independent prosecution agency would require funding primarily for personnel. The Arizona State Legislature should appropriate funding for this purpose. If it does not, then local governments will need to do so. Revenue sources to pay for this could include savings generated by other reforms.

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Those savings could come from funds currently being appropriated in death penalty cases, which cost millions of dollars and cause victim families to suffer for decades of tortuous appeals. As county attorney, I would stop seeking the death penalty.

Further savings could come from funds currently being appropriated to pay for prison, jail, prosecution, defense, and courts involved in arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration for marijuana possession - something that must cease.

Still further savings could be generated by implementing deflection and diversion for those found possessing dangerous and narcotic drugs, such as heroin, meth, fentanyl, and cocaine to treatment in lieu of prosecution.

Treatment costs less than half the cost of jail or prison. So, providing treatment instead of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration for drug possession will save literally millions of dollars. It also will save lives and reduce recidivism. This is a proven solution, with independent cost-benefit analyses demonstrating the cost savings and recidivism reduction.

Currently, we have a small Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program that takes in only about 60 new participants each year. We need to dramatically scale up this type of program and to offer pre-charge diversion to treatment - allowing those suffering from addiction not only to avoid prison, but to avoid felony prosecution altogether. I helped design a pre-charge diversion program that can be implemented as early as January 2021 and can be offered to as many as 1,600 participants - dramatically scaling up the use of treatment instead of prosecution.

These reforms in the way we handle marijuana possession and possession of dangerous and narcotic drugs, such as heroin, meth, fentanyl and cocaine can be driven simply by a change in prosecution philosophy. By utilizing Arizona law that allows prosecutors to prioritize resources and decline to prosecute certain cases in the absence of sufficient resources, the county attorney can effectuate dramatic change. For example, if the county attorney simply declines to prosecute adults caught possessing marijuana, police will realize that every single case in which they arrest an individual for marijuana possession is dismissed. So, soon they will stop making those futile arrests.

If elected county attorney, I am prepared to implement each and every one of these solutions to stop seeking the death penalty, to reduce mass incarceration, to reduce the disparate impact on communities of color that result from our current drug prosecution policies, and to end the war on drug addicts that has punished them for a medical condition and to ensure they receive treatment, not punishment.

I will use the lead prosecutor position of county attorney, as well as the role of civil legal advisor to Pima County government, to persuade all our local law enforcement agency leaders to implement the eight reforms that can't wait. And I will immediately specially deputize an independent, prosecution team to review officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths involving law enforcement officers, so we will not have to await an statewide agency (though I will lobby for that statewide agency until it is implemented).

If you agree with me that these problems must be solved as soon as possible, and if you want an experienced prosecutor with a specific plan and commitment to these reforms, then I urge you to vote for me in the Democratic primary election for Pima County attorney. You can learn about my prosecution experience, management experience, and civil legal experience, as well as all the specific aspects of my reform agenda on my campaign website at mosher2020.com.

Jonathan Mosher is a Democratic candidate for Pima County attorney.

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2 comments on this story

Jul 5, 2020, 7:20 pm
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Did you read the article? It’s not actually out of the County Attorney’s Office, but it sounds as if Mr. Mosher has a progressive platform if elected to that office.

Jul 5, 2020, 4:08 pm
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More of the same out of the County Attorney’s Office.

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Jonathan Mosher