MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - A budget crunch in Multnomah County is bringing up tough questions about how the county funds its justice system, and whether it's enough.
Last week, community members testified before County Commissioners, concerned about what they consider inadequate funding for the District Attorney's Office.
"Petty crimes are a big deal to us. Especially if you have to stare into the eyes of the repeat crime offender illegally camping in front of your home," Tiffany Hammer said, who said she was confronted by a man who brandished a three-foot tree branch and chased after she and her nine-year-old son in late 2018.
Hammer said the man was eventually arrested, but although she's been working with the DA's office, he still hasn't been prosecuted.
In a separate presentation before County Commissioners the week before, District Attorney Rod Underhill laid out the challenges his office is facing in the midst of the county-wide budget crunch.
By his estimation, his office has roughly 40 fewer prosecutors to handle cases than it needs.
"We're having a challenge with respect to wanting to take more time to have a better outcome and do better work, and being constrained by volume and time and the collision of those two principles," Underhill said.
According to an analysis by the DA's office, an example of this is the Misdemeanor Trials Unit, which would handle cases like low-level assaults, menacing, and carrying a concealed weapon.
The unit had 8,629 case referrals, with each case taking a prosecutor roughly four hours to complete.
The caseload adds up to 33,653 hours of work, and subtracting vacation and leave time, the seven full-time prosecutors in the unit have 10,322 available hours to work, leaving a shortage of 23,321 hours of work, which would require the equivalent of 15.8 full-time prosecutors (FTE) to complete.
Benjamin Drayson, who testified he was recently assaulted by a repeat-offender while walking with his family in downtown Portland, believes more funding should be allocated to the DA's office.
"We need a district attorney who brings charges against all cases of violent crime, without needing to triage them to the few that they can afford to pursue," Drayson said.
Board Chair Deborah Kafoury said she's heard the DA's message loud and clear, and even with across-the-board cuts to county departments, has worked to keep funding for the DA's office stable, but also admits there's only so much money to move around.
"I would say that everyone is stretched thin right now, and it's imperative in this time that everyone tries to do more with less," Kafoury said.
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on a proposed budget at its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, May 30.
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