Melissa Nelson says office has expanded use of citations for juvenile misdemeanors, now uses a committee to evaluate some cases.
Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson returned to the Southside Business Men’s Club on Wednesday to give the group a self-report on her first seven months in office.
Nelson said the club was one of the stops during her campaign last year to be the chief prosecutor in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. While running for office, Nelson promised that, if elected, prosecutors would be “smarter in our approach” and the office would work to “build trust in the community.”
The first priority is public safety, but “we’ve begun to think of our role differently,” she said.
For example, she said, in May her office, in cooperation with the courts and law enforcement officials in the three counties, codified an agreement to expand the use of civil citations for juvenile misdemeanors.
That allows police officers to essentially write a ticket for a minor offense instead of arresting juveniles and placing them into the criminal justice system. Instead, the young offenders are sent to Teen Court or other diversionary programs.
The agreement also expanded the list of offenses that may qualify for a citation to include misdemeanor battery – “two kids fighting” – Nelson said.
In 2016, only about 24 percent of eligible youth offenders were issued the citations. Since the agreement went into effect, the percentage has doubled to about 50 percent, she said.
In terms of public trust, prosecutors also have changed how they evaluate cases and how they decide to proceed with a case.
For example, the decision of how to proceed in officer-involved shootings and death penalty cases is no longer decided by a single prosecutor. Instead, a committee comprising investigators and prosecutors evaluates the case.
“More heads around the table allows us to get to better decisions,” Nelson said.
There’s also some remodeling being planned in the Ed Austin Building, the State Attorney’s office space adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse.
Nelson said plans are being formulated to establish a Strategic Prosecution Unit and a Crime Gun Intelligence Center.
In combination with the Shot Spotter technology that allows police to identify the location of gunfire in a neighborhood and a shell-casing identification database, prosecutors and law enforcement officers work together to gather information about offenders.
Nelson said members of her staff assigned to violent crimes are “embedded” with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“Information sharing is improving,” Nelson said.