September 20, 2007

Meet Paula Kruchowski, Third Precinct Community Attorney

Last fall, Paula Kruchowski joined the Third Precinct as its Community Attorney, and she is already earning high marks for her energetic commitment to  prosecuting livability crimes and her obvious dedication to including the community in that effort.  Born in Duluth and raised in Chisholm, Kruchowski lives in the Third Precinct’s Keewaydin neighborhood.   She attended the University

of Minnesota - Duluth, where she graduated with a degree  in Criminology and double minors in Psychology and Sociology.  She earned her J.D., magna cum laude, from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.   

Kruchowski began her career in criminal law while still in law school, working for the Minnesota State Public

Defender’s Office as a certified student attorney and handling felony criminal appeals for Minnesota inmates.  Realizing that she preferred prosecution, she joined the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office after law school, and has now been part of the city’s team of prosecutors for nearly a decade.  We recently sat down with Kruchowski to learn more about her approach to community prosecution in the Phillips neighborhood.  

What drew you to criminal prosecution? 

Criminal law is extremely interesting.  I have always had an interest in why people do what they do.  And, because of the human element involved, no two cases are ever the same.  

How does a Community Attorney’s role differ from that of a County Attorney?  What does the Community Attorney bring to the mix?

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has jurisdiction to prosecute juvenile and            adult felony offenses and some select gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor offenses.  On the other hand, my office’s jurisdiction extends to the prosecution of petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses, most of which are livability offenses.

The Community Attorney program in my office was established because the office understands that livability crime seriously affects neighborhoods, demoralizes residents, hurts businesses and can lead to the deterioration of the community.  My location in the precinct allows me to interact with community members, local businesses, law enforcement agencies, the courts and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to better address neighborhood issues.

What elements do you believe are critical to forging a strong, three-way partnership between the community, the police, and prosecutors?   As Community Attorney, what steps have you taken, or plan to take, to achieve them?

Building relationships and communication amongst law enforcement, the police and the prosecutors’ offices is essential.  The right hand has to know what the left hand is doing.  Since I’ve been at the precinct, I’ve made it a point to make as many contacts as possible and to try to establish relationships where they had not existed before and to build stronger relationships with the community, law enforcement and other agencies.  

A prime example is the strengthening of the relationship between the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office.  When Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman revamped his Community Prosecution team a few months ago, our office began talking to his office about establishing a closer relationship with our respective offices and about how we could work together more effectively.  Recently, the Hennepin County Community Prosecution Team and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecution Team, of which I am a member, had a very successful meeting to discuss our partnership, and we have since agreed to meet regularly to jointly tackle livability issues.     

Since you took on this job last fall, you have maintained a very busy schedule that includes regular attending a variety of community meetings.   What motivates you to do that, and how does it further your work?

I do have a very busy schedule.  I regularly attend community meetings, carry a caseload and charge cases arising from arrests made in the Precinct.  But I believe that attending community meetings to listen to concerns about public safety and to work on those issues with the community and the police is essential to successful community crime prevention.  If it weren’t for the community, I wouldn’t have half the information I do about what’s going on in the neighborhoods.  Also, the community needs to be educated on public safety issues and they need to know whom to contact if issues arise.  It’s part of my job to be their resource.  

                 

If you could magically change one thing about the criminal justice system’s approach to low-level offenders, what would it be?

It would be the perception that there are really no victims of livability crimes.  That perception is already changing, though.  When I first started as a prosecutor, if I made a stiff offer on a livability offense, I would often get opposition from both the bench and defense counsel.  Now, because of my office’s focus on livability offenses, we don’t get that reaction as much anymore.  The bench and the defense bar are getting used to seeing community impact statements in our files and our requests for geographic restrictions for some of the worst livability offenders in the city.  With community impact statements, we’ve been able to provide direct “testimony” from the community about how the offenders disrupt their neighborhoods, and so we can make the arguments that community members are victims of these offenses.  It’s pretty compelling when you have an impact statement that describes how a resident can’t walk his child to school without seeing prostitutes at the bus stops looking for business, or how a mom finds discarded drug paraphernalia in her child’s sandbox in their backyard.   

What’s the most difficult part of your job?  The best? 

The most difficult part of my job is finding enough hours in the day to accomplish everything.  I am extremely busy with court appearances, community meetings, roll call trainings, case development, and project development.  I’m also a member of my office’s criminal appeals team, so I have additional duties there as well.  But the variety I encounter in this job is amazing.  I’m allowed to be creative in developing innovative strategies to reduce and prevent crime in the neighborhoods.  I can help the officers develop strong cases for charging.  I put myself out there in the community to gain information and to offer assistance to community members.  It’s never, ever boring.

What do you consider the key factors in improving the vitality of the Phillips neighborhood? 

There are three things that come to mind when I think of improving the Phillips neighborhood:  economic development, neighborhood engagement, and cooperation.  Two great examples of economic development are the redevelopment of the Midtown Exchange building and the development of the Franklin Avenue corridor.  Since those sites have been redeveloped, crime has decreased.  An important part of revitalizing the Phillips neighborhood is to make it an attractive neighborhood to establish businesses, and to make sure it is safe enough to attract customers.  

I am hopeful that in the near future the neighborhood is going to become a more and more appealing place to live and work.  The Phillips neighborhood has so much energy, and the people here are wonderful.  They deserve good businesses in their neighborhoods and they need to feel safe walking to the corner store or the bakery .  I would love to see people moving into the vacant houses and start remodeling them, and  to see more economic development in the neighborhood.  Those two things are dependent on the safety of the neighborhood, but by building and maintaining strong relationships with the police and the prosecution, the community can help prevent crime in their neighborhoods.