Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel chatted with the Source about his term so far, and his community-based safety and justice initiatives.
SW: In your first six months in office, what has surprised you the most?
JH: I've been pleasantly surprised by the interest of grand jurors in crime prevention. At the conclusion of their service, I meet with every grand juror and thank them for their service and invite them to provide feedback into the work done by the Deschutes DA's office. Most of them ask what more our community can do to prevent crime. We often see national politicians pounding lecterns as they try to out "tough-on-crime" one another. It's encouraging to see that, locally, those who are tasked with initiating felony criminal charges (grand jurors), fulfill their duty to do so when the facts and the law warrant this, while at the same time being concerned about the big picture of achieving public safety by taking steps to prevent crime in the first place.
SW: Your handling of the Dickerson case is really interesting. (In March, a resident reported an intruder in his house and that he had been shot, but it turned out that the man had invented the scenario, and shot himself. The DA's office decided not to pursue charges.) It seems like you put a lot of time into investigating that case, and really understanding the person involved, not just the incident.
JH: The criminal justice system is a powerful and necessary tool for communities to have at their disposal to maintain public safety. But just because the criminal justice system is available to a community doesn't mean it should be deployed in every instance.
I reviewed Todd Dickerson's case to determine if the involvement of the DA's office and the courts was necessary to keep our community safe. I conducted a detailed investigation into the actions Mr. Dickerson took after he attempted to take his life. I wanted to see if he was taking seriously the importance of actively working to care for his mental health needs. I was pleased to see that Mr. Dickerson embraced the second chance at life he was given. He is to be commended for embracing his illness and taking the necessary steps to become and remain healthy. Like a person with a broken arm who sees a doctor, Todd now understands that a person struggling with their mental health should seek treatment. Todd regularly sees a therapist, speaks openly with friends and family about his condition, and speaks often in his community about the dangers of mental health stigma. In light of this, there was no need to involve the criminal justice system in Mr. Dickerson's life. Community safety was achieved by the actions Mr. Dickerson took on his own initiative.
SW: The Exclusion Zone has become a thorny topic. To clarify, the DA's office does support its expansion, yes? And, can you articulate the grounds for that support?
JH: I don't take a position on whether the expansion is good or bad policy. The Bend City Council seems poised to expand the zone and I respect their legislative authority to do so. The Deschutes DA's office will prosecute trespassing violations in the zone as long as I am satisfied that the exclusion notices are being issued in furtherance of the goal of keeping downtown safe by excluding violent and/or chronic offenders. If I become aware that exclusion orders are being selectively issued to rid downtown of people perceived as undesirable due to their appearance, my office will not participate.
SW: Are you concerned that there is an uptick in crime downtown? Or, asked differently, what do you see as the role for the DA's office in setting policing policies for downtown?
JH: I am concerned about the problem of downtown crime. Downtown is generally a safe place to visit, but we cannot become complacent. If we wait for a crisis to act, our solutions will be rushed and responsive, as opposed to well thought out and proactive. With this in mind, I committed the Deschutes DA's office to work with the Bend Police Department and the Bend Downtowner's Association to implement a coordinated approach to the problem. And I've created a Downtown Bend Livability Team in the DA's office that will handle all cases from downtown Bend. Having two attorneys in this office review all the cases from downtown Bend allows us to develop a consistent strategy and approach to address the issue.
SW: Is the job harder or easier than you anticipated?
JH: I did my homework and went into this job with my eyes wide open, so the difficulty of the job is what I expected.
SW: Has six months gone quickly or slowly?
JH: It's gone by quickly. I'm fortunate to be doing a job I love, in a community I love, with a staff of top-notch professionals. To quote Lou Gehrig, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."
SW: During your campaigning, you talked a lot about reaching out to communities outside Bend, and also better coordinating efforts throughout the county. What opportunities have you had to accomplish this, or take steps in that direction?
JH: I'm excited that my DeschutesSafe initiative launched this month. DeschutesSafe is an inclusive and representative community-based advisory panel that will address holistic ways to reduce crime within Deschutes County. I made a concerted effort to recruit members of this committee from throughout the county and am pleased that eight members of this board are from outside Bend. The year-long DeschutesSafe initiative will map the county's current crime prevention programs and will evaluate how these activities correlate to our community's current crime prevention needs.
By working together as a community, leveraging resources, and using data and evidence-based strategies, we can become even better at preventing crime and keeping our community one of the safest places in the country to live, work, and raise a family. This initiative reflects our goal to address community challenges before they escalate. This type of effort shows Deschutes County's commitment to engaging in best practices to reduce crime.