District Attorney: No simple math for office

Felony and drug arrests both reached a 10-year high in Chautauqua County as did other felonies while violent felonies are at their highest levels since 2010 and 2012.

It stands to reason if police agencies are arresting more people, then county prosecutors are handling more cases. Chautauqua County had 3,566 total arrests in 2017, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. That averages 274.31 cases for each of the county’s 13 assistant district attorneys while the county’s 1,056 felony arrests averages out to 81.23 per prosecutor. Adding a 14th assistant district attorney as proposed recently by Patrick Swanson, county district attorney, would decrease the caseloads to 254.71 per attorney and 75.43 felony cases per attorney.

The two counties with the next largest populations are Rensselaer County and Schenectady County. Rensselaer County has 30,676 more residents than Chautauqua County’s and had 3,417 total arrests and 1,142 felony arrests. Its staff of 14 prosecutors averaged 227.8 total cases each and 76.13 felony prosecutions each. Schenectady County contains 26,519 more people than Chautauqua County, with a staff of 22 prosecuting attorneys and seven investigators, according to the 2018 Schenectady County budget. In 2017, Schenectady had 3,884 total arrests — an average of 176.55 per prosecutor. Of those arrests, there are 1,341 felonies, or 60.95 per prosecutor.

Oswego and Jefferson counties are directly below Chautauqua County in population. Oswego County has 118,478 residents, 10,568 fewer than Chautauqua County, and 14 prosecutors, including its elected district attorney. Oswego County had 2,597 total arrests in 2017 and 760 felony arrests. That averages out to a caseload of 185 cases per prosecutor and 54.29 felony cases. Jefferson County has 14,859 fewer residents than Chautauqua County and had 2,376 total arrests in 2017, with 676 felony arrests. The county’s prosecutorial team was tasked with prosecuting 237.6 cases per prosecutor and 67.6 felonies.

Here’s where the math isn’t quite so basic. What is the proper caseload county taxpayers can expect a District Attorney’s office to bear? The counties with similar populations to Chautauqua County range from 54 felony cases per attorney to the current 81 in Chautauqua County. Is the difference between 81 felony cases and 75 felony cases really that dramatic to justify an added cost that will never go away even if crime decreases? Should there be contingencies on any such hire that tie the position into the county’s number of arrests?

Swanson has brought in some significant facts. It’s now up to Chautauqua County legislators to do their homework in preparation for the county’s 2019 budget discussions.