Multnomah County voters elected District Attorney Mike Schmidt in 2020. Schmidt campaigned on shrinking the criminal justice system, but his latest initiative involves hiring more prosecutors to join his team. As first reported by the Portland Mercury, Schmidt wants to spend $2.7 million on a program to hire eight new prosecutors who would be assigned to four geographic areas.

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Schmidt says the Multnomah County DA’s Access Attorney Program (MAAP) would partner with community centers and neighborhood-based nonprofits in an effort to build relationships and better understand the needs of the community.

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Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt

Courtesy of Chris Mueller

“I’m in many community meetings and one of the things that I hear over and over is that leaders and government and everybody should actually be working with community all the time,” Schmidt told OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” “Right now, we try our best, but essentially we sit behind the courthouse walls and we wait for police reports to come to us. This breaks that. This gets us out and actually with the people we serve.”

Schmidt cited Unite Oregon, the Coalition of Communities of Color and Basic Rights Oregon as examples of progressive organizations that are on board with his new proposal. He said the MAAP also has support from law enforcement and business groups. One organization that remains skeptical is the ACLU of Oregon.

In a statement to OPB, the group said, “The ACLU of Oregon continues to be concerned that DA Schmidt’s MAAP program, while well-intentioned, will have harmful impacts on the same communities that prosecutors have harmed for generations. At a time when the courts and public defenders are buckling under the weight of prosecutor-driven caseloads, it is disheartening to see efforts to increase the state’s prosecution capacity.”

According to Schmidt, adding more prosecutors to his team will not necessarily lead to more prosecutions.

“Although we would have more prosecutors, what happens when you have more deputy district attorneys to do this work is they can spend more time on the cases and they can do a better job in terms of spending time to come up with creative resolutions, for example, exploring restorative justice options in our community,” he said.

The Portland Mercury compared the MAAP with a neighborhood-focused initiative former Multnomah County DA Mike Schrunk created in 1990. Schmidt said his idea is different because rather than putting the new prosecutors in police precincts, they would be co-located with community organizations.

Asked how he will avoid disproportionately criminalizing people of color and low-income people for nonviolent offenses, Schmidt was quick to point out that he’s made demographic data about crime victims and defendants publicly available as a way of holding himself and his office accountable.

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