Today I heard Pat Lykos, Harris County District Attorney, speak. She spoke of her innovative ideas and progress in her office.
With a staff of 600 and only 68 investigators, there is more than enough work to go around. Harris County, the third largest county in the country, with 34 municipalities, is more diverse and challenging than just about any other spot in the country. Currently, due to budget restraints, there is a freeze on new hiring.
A program called "Do the Right Thing" is now in place in schools and receiving rave reviews from teachers. The program targets children in eighth grade that are affected by violence. There is a writing component in the program that teachers are very supportive of and it allows the students to relay their personal experiences.
In the revised and renewed Victim's Rights Program, a caller no longer goes right to voicemail. Now a caller speaks to a real person on the other end of the line. Lykos uncovered corruption in the form of theft in the program. Restitution payments - money orders - from as far back as twenty years were found to have not been sent to the victims involved. A clerk in the program was cashing the money orders for herself - over $200,000 worth - and is now awaiting sentencing for her actions.
Lykos has created a Child Endangerment Division and was the first in the nation to prosecute a case involving an adult male and an 11 year old girl involved through video gaming. He reached out to her through her Playstation use.
The District Attorney's office has an active Animal Cruelty Unit. Dog fighting is a big problem in the county. Particularly disturbing is the number of children brought to these fights. Lykos spoke of the documented link between animal cruelty in childhood and adult crime.
The District Attorney's office is now collecting a database of international gangs operating in the county. Lykos said that virtually every international and domestic gang is represented in Harris County.
Lykos has placed as a priority working with the mayor to put in place an independent crime lab. No one wants innocent people to be prosecuted.
When asked by an audience member if illegal immigrants comprise the majority of those committing criminal acts, Lykos said that the number of DWIs are disproportionally committed by illegal immigrants.
Members of the audience were surprised to learn that DPS sells personal information on those applying for a drivers license. Credit card companies wanted the information made available and the Texas state legislature complied. Now her office is working on introducing legislation to allow Harris County to opt out of this.
Lykos would like to introduce a pilot project for the mentally ill in the county. She spoke of the need for housing for this population and the need for the ability to transition those in need back into society. She believes this can be accomplished by educating those in a transition program and if not, provide housing for those not capable of caring for themselves. Locally, Lykos praised the efforts of the Salvation Army and Star of Hope. She also praised the Boy Scouts for their work in the county.
Harris County is the beneficiary of a new District Attorney who is passionate about her work and thinks outside the box for solutions. Tough job. Smart woman.