Alameda approves creation of Bay Area’s first city prosecutor position

Alameda City Hall.

Thieves snagging Amazon packages from doorsteps in Alameda, and other violators of misdemeanor-level crimes often have a good chance of falling through the criminal justice system. That’s because most district attorney’s across the state, instead, focus their limited resources on high-level crimes. But Alameda believes it has a novel idea to enforce its local laws that include recently approved minimum wage rules and a number of new rent protections.

Without much discussion Tuesday night, the Alameda City Council unanimously approved the creation of a city prosecutor’s office. The position, along with a full-time paralegal, will fall under the supervision on Alameda City Attorney Yibin Shen.

“To me, this is the most important thing we’re going to do all year,” Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie declared.

The Alameda Police Department issued strong support for the item. Oddie said the ability for the city prosecutor to validate the police department’s efforts by gaining prosecutions will boost the morale of Alameda police officers.

Not only could the city prosecutor litigate instances of petty crime, but also enforce Alameda’s growing menu of tenant protections.

“I think laws without enforcement are meaningless,” Councilmember Malia Vella said.

No other city in Northern California uses a city prosecutor. But its quite common in Southern California.

Shen, who worked in the Santa Monica city attorney’s office for more than a decade, imported the idea to Alameda earlier this summer. Shen, himself, was once a city prosecutor in Santa Monica. His tenure in Alameda began last May.

During interviews earlier this year for the vacant city attorney position, Vella said Tuesday night that she was intrigued by Shen’s plan for a city prosecutor in Alameda. “This is one element that has been missing from our city atty office,” she said.

The new positions will cost a total of $400,000 in salary and benefits annually.

But in order for Alameda’s city prosecutor’s office to maximize its full potential for litigating low-level crimes, the City Charter will require revisions.

Under current law, Alameda’s city prosecutor still needs to ask the Alameda County District Attorney for permission to prosecute violations of state law. In order to gain a new level of autonomy, the charter’s needs to be amended to specifically delineate those powers to the city prosecutor.

Any change to the city charter requires a vote of the people. But Alameda officials are already eyeing a number of potential charter revisions that could come before voters sometime next year.

Alameda Councilmember John Knox White, a member of the ad-hoc committee tasked with the charter revision effort, motioned Tuesday night for the council to direct the committee to examine the city prosecutor issue.

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