Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Dan Patterson

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What is the purpose of the prosecuting attorney’s office?
We have both a vision statement and a mission statement. Our vision is to ensure a safe and secure community with justice for all. Our mission is, as ministers of justice, to achieve justice fairly, effectively and efficiently through advocacy and community leadership. We represent the state of Missouri, so our role is not to represent victims, like in a civil lawsuit … but to represent all Greene County citizens and the state of Missouri, to achieve justice for victims as well as accountability for the defendants. … Any state offense comes through our office.

You joined the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office in 1996, and were sworn in as prosecuting attorney Jan. 1. How has your role changed?
I was the chief assistant from 2003 until the end of (former Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore’s) term, so as chief assistant I was responsible for day-to-day operations of the office. So I’m moving from the operational level to more of a strategic and policy-driven type of position.

What is a key challenge facing your office?
Like many other government offices at this time, it’s a lack of funding and a lack of resources. What it means is, we have to find different ways of doing things, or … find better ways to do them until more resources become available. For example, our business does not go down during a recession. With the Springfield Police Department adding … officers, that will increase the number of case referrals that comes to our office … without any parallel increase in resources, so we continue to look at things like diversion programs or alternative disposition courts, such as drug courts, DWI courts and assorted justice courts, to find ways to move cases more quickly so we can focus on dangerous and career criminals.

What is your office’s staff size and caseload volume?
There are 22 assistant prosecutors in the criminal division, and six in the child support division. … In the criminal division, we have a major crimes unit that handles homicides, first-degree assaults, robberies, drug distribution. The persons unit handles crimes against persons – domestic assaults, crimes against children. … Then we have a general crimes unit (for) traffic crimes, property crimes, forgery, stealing and those kinds of cases. Our 2010 annual report runs from Dec. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010, and there are a couple of ways (caseload is determined). For 2010, there were 16,139 counts referred to us, of which 11,579 were charged and 3,450 were declined. Within a case, you might have (multiple) counts. … In 2010, there were 9,300-plus cases filed that were misdemeanors, and 2,100 felony cases filed.

What, if anything, have you changed since taking office?
We had a warrants unit that we had been rotating prosecutors through. One of the subtle changes I made – actually, slightly before Jan. 1 – is that we went back to a system where we have two prosecutors assigned full-time to the warrant unit. Their full-time job is reviewing and screening cases that are coming in. … There aren’t a lot of changes.

How does your office interact with the business community, and vice versa?
Perhaps most direct is in prosecution of bad check cases that we handle for many business owners, as well as stealing cases. I think one of the key things to bring people to a community is to have a safe community. … Having a functioning judicial system or criminal justice system is key to that, so I think the business community is a stakeholder to what we do here, even if they’re not a victim of a crime. There are opportunities for the business community to get involved. Examples are being mentors to young people, juvenile offenders. … Also, with our restorative justice program, we have community boards (that hold offenders) accountable for community service, restitution and the decisions they’ve been making. And we need volunteers for those boards. … Successful completion of that program allows people to be more productive (and) be able to enter the work force, because if they graduate, we allow the offenders to withdraw their guilty pleas and dismiss the charge, so they don’t have a felony conviction, which makes them more employable and a better asset for our community.
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