Durham County’s new district attorney wants better communication between his office and the community, and between his office and law-enforcement agencies.
“I want us to be more responsive to the citizens and their needs and what they think about the criminal justice system and the court system,” Roger Echols told the Durham Crime Cabinet on Friday. The group of public officials and citizens meets every other month to share information on criminal-justice matters.
As an example, he said he is committed to having the DA’s office represented at every meeting of the city’s five Partners Against Crime citizens’ groups.
“That representation will be me – as many as I can make,” Echols said. “That’s one of the easy things that I can do.”
Friday was the Crime Cabinet’s first meeting since Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Echols to succeed retiring interim DA Leon Stanback. Echols, who had been Stanback’s chief assistant, started his job Sept. 1. He had already won the Democratic nomination for district attorney in a May primary and is unopposed in the November general election for a full four-year term.
He took over an office whose image had been tarnished, its last two elected occupants – Mike Nifong and Tracey Cline – removed for professional misconduct. Stanback, a retired Superior Court judge, was appointed in 2012 to serve out Cline’s term.
“I recognize the court system is not social services,” he said, “but ... we’ll be trying to come up with ideas where we can partner with the community to not only lower crime but to improve lives.”
Echols said he wants to see joint training of prosecutors and officers regarding their roles in court.
“We can’t train officers to be officers,” he said, but there is room for improved coordination on court testimony. He said he has already scheduled training sessions for prosecutors and members of the police forensics staff.
“I’m not saying there is a deficiency,” he said, but did not elaborate on his reasons for wanting joint training.
Echols also said he wants to reduce Durham’s average “disposition” time, the period from indictment to judgment. Currently, he said, it is 158 days, which is seventh-shortest among the state’s 44 court districts.
“Seventh is pretty good,” he said. “But if we can be one day better, let’s be one day better.”
The first goal he mentioned was minimizing the impact of crime on victims. That would involve contacting them early in a case’s development and maintaining close contact through trial and sentencing, he said after the meeting. He wants to have the same kind of contact with witnesses “to a certain extent,” to help their sense of security
Crime Cabinet member Matt Yarbrough said he especially liked that goal.
“I’m very glad to hear you say that because we’ve had some horror stories in here of people being intimidated and that sort of thing,” Yarbrough said. “We’re very glad to hear you make that statement.”