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Sun., Nov. 23
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Police power

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Given the limited resources of a government prosecutor’s office, having staff attorneys focus on more serious crimes rather than minor infractions is crucial.

When campaigning for district attorney of St. Lawrence County last year, Mary E. Rain acknowledged that she understood the amount of work that prosecutors have to do. She said she would look for ways to make the office run more efficiently and help ensure there were enough assistant district attorneys to cover all major cases in progress.

One effective way of doing this is authorizing police officers throughout St. Lawrence County to prosecute violations for which they have issued tickets, a policy Ms. Rain recently announced. By having these officers concentrate on overseeing vehicle and traffic violations, more prosecutors from Ms. Rain’s office would be free to handle more serious criminal incidents.

“It’s something that is a program that is established across the state. It was in effect when I was a patrolwoman 30 years ago when I started, and I liked it,” Ms. Rain said in a March 7 story in the Watertown Daily Times. “It is something that many of the patrolmen like. It allows officers to establish beyond reasonable doubt and understand it better when they are dealing with more serious cases.”

Ms. Rain said this policy does not require police officers to prosecute such cases but rather gives them the option of doing so if they want. Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said the officers in his department are up to the task of overseeing these cases.

One of the issues in the district attorney’s race last year was how effectively prosecutors have been handling their cases, particularly felonies. If assistant district attorneys can shift more of their attention to serious crimes as opposed to vehicle and traffic violations, the rate of successful prosecutions should improve.

This policy makes sense as police officers must be in court if a ticket has been contested, resulting in a trial. So as long as the officers must attend the court proceedings in the case of a trial, it would be better to let them handle these cases rather than bringing in prosecutors.

Obviously, proper training will be required on the part of Ms. Rain and her staff members. But if they can establish a reliable program to instruct police officers on how to handle these cases, this policy should be a true benefit to the law enforcement and criminal justice systems in St. Lawrence County.

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