DeKALB – The three Republican candidates for DeKalb County state’s attorney Wednesday debated plans to reduce and prosecute violent crimes in the community.
The debate, hosted by Northern Illinois University’s College Republicans was open to the public and allotted time for responses from Richard Amato, Charles Rea and Clay Campbell – each of the men in the running for Republican nomination to challenge incumbent DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack.
Serving as a point of contention was whether the state’s attorney’s office focuses too much effort prosecuting nonviolent crimes.
While suggesting the county State’s Attorney’s Office re-prioritize its caseload, former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell referred to 19-year-old Christian Contreras, a DeKalb man charged in connection with Thursday’s shooting, and a known violent offender.
“I think what we actually are doing as a country is starting to rethink our approach to criminal justice,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to start moving some of these cases away that we might normally charge,” he said.
Candidate Charles Rea, however, said it isn’t the state’s attorney’s job to choose which cases they prosecute. Provided the office’s budget and staff, traffic and first-offense drug charges deserve as much attention as violent crimes, he said.
“You’re sending the wrong message if you’re telling the public, ‘We’re just going to ignore this group of crimes,’ “ Rea said.
But Amato and Campbell agreed that traffic crimes, juvenile cases and marijuana charges are often drawn out and prevent prosecutors from working on cases that pose a threat to the community.
“We spend too much time prosecuting Johnny for stealing a bike and every time we prosecute Johnny for stealing a bike, he has to miss school, his parents have to come to the courthouse, everybody’s got to get a lawyer – but most importantly that takes up the judge’s time. That takes up the police officer’s time and that takes up the tax payers’ money,” Campbell said.
A zero tolerance attitude could help prevent some cases from reaching the State’s Attorney’s Office all together, Amato said.
“We have to send a message that this is not going to be tolerated in the communiversity area. It’s not going to be tolerated in DeKalb. It’s not going to be tolerated in Sycamore, Hinckley – wherever it happens, it’s not going to be tolerated,” Amato said. “There has to be a focus on that, and a way of doing that is by making it a priority and making those cases a priority – not at the expense of others, but by changing the whole management of the office to employ our most serious cases and get the other cases resolved as quickly as possible.”
Something all three men could agree upon was the need to increase the State’s Attorney’s Office’s presence within the community.
If elected, Rea said he plans to assign assistant state’s attorneys to work alongside the DeKalb and NIU police departments – the departments that respond to the county’s most serious crimes, he said.
“We’re going to have two assistant state’s attorneys assigned to the DeKalb Police Department,” he said. “We’re going to have assistant state’s attorneys here doing that with them and having a working relationship with them.”
Amato has long endorsed teamwork between the cities’ police departments and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
“It doesn’t mean police are going to be put on a pedestal,” he said. “They’re going to account for their actions, but they’re going to be part of a team of law enforcement and state’s attorneys.”
While Campbell said it is imperative prosecutors and law enforcement officers work with one another, the state’s attorney must be careful to remain loyal also to the people who elected him.
“The state’s attorney’s isn’t the office to be the attorneys for the police,” he said. “They’re the attorneys for the entire community.”
CAREER: Attorney, Law Offices of Amato and Sheen
CAREER: Lawyer, Campbell and Johnson, P.C.