D.A. Dudley on In-Home Crimes: 'We Know It's Happening -- Our Only Chance Is if People Step Up'
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley checked in via iPad from an undisclosed location near the beach on Tuesday, to talk about how the coronavirus has upended the criminal justice system - and made some changes to her personal life as well.
The D.A. described how the pandemic shutdown has effectively switched off many operations of the legal system -- due to an ongoing postponement of jury trials, an emergency judicial order mandating "zero bail" for misdemeanors and low-level felonies -- and a troubling sudden decline in reports of criminal child and domestic abuse.
"Certainly justice delayed is justice denied, and justice (so far) has been delayed for eight weeks," Dudley said in a Newsmakers interview. "There’s no chance of a jury trial until, I believe the latest ruling was mid-June, and it could be extended beyond that.
"So whether it’s a criminal justice case that needs to be resolved or a civil matter that needs to be resolved, the fact that a critical part of our system has put its brakes on, and stopped, means that people are suffering from that," she added.
On a personal level, Dudley is doing as much work as she can via Zoom and other virtual tools. A work-out fanatic, she now bikes to work and back on the two days when she goes in, and has transformed her living room into a stay-at-home gym. But she admits she's struggling with some privations of social distancing.
"I haven’t had a hug in seven weeks from anybody," said Joyce, who lost her husband last year. "I think that’s just a silly thing, when I think about all the other things that people are going through, but I have these beautiful grandchildren I can't touch (and) my sons.
"And I think sometimes during my worst moments, I go to exercise or talk to friends, but sometimes you just need a hug," she added. "I miss them the most on a very personal, very selfish level. I think the first hug I get is going to be so sweet."
Top priority. On March 13, a week before Gov. Newsom issued his statewide stay-at-home order, Dudley gathered with her executive team to talk through the complex criminal justice issues at stake as the Covid-19 pandemic steadily advanced, and began transforming day-to-day life in Santa Barbara and around the world.
At the top of the priority list was the category of "in-home crimes" -- domestic violence, spousal rape, child abuse, elder abuse and animal abuse -- which would be enabled behind closed doors as stay-at-home orders became more strict.
Dudley explained in the interview:
"As we thought about, what are the ramifications on Santa Barbara County, who are we not going to have eyes on -- it’s people behind the door of their homes.
"Under normal circumstances, kids go to school, people walk the streets, people see their family, people get to grocery shop without masks on; a whole bunch of things happen, so that when there is some concern (about in-home crimes). somebody reports it.
"Now, all the mandated reporters -- and people who just care about you reporters -- aren’t seeing those victims.
"The other piece is that the stress level in many homes is off the chart. Financial burdens, children home from school, fear of getting the disease, lost loved ones, loved ones in the hospital, anxiety is up, stress is up and alcohol and drugs are nearby.
"We all knew these crimes would be increasing. The problem is, we all knew the reports would be decreasing."
The D.A. worked with other law enforcement, county officials and social agencies to roll out a new public awareness campaign, centered on a new, bilingual hotline number (805-568- 2400), staffed 24/7, to field reports.
The public campaign has focused on urging friends, family members and neighbors to call the hotline, because victims themselves often are reluctant to report abuse, she said.
"They’re either intimidated -- they fear this, for the sake of their life, for the sake of their children’s lives, for the sake of their elders lives, their pet's life, they fear if they make that phone call something horrible will happen.
"That’s one, and two is, that neighbors just don’t want to get involved so the only chance we have is if people step up," she added. "If friends, family and neighbors make those phone calls...it’s going to get the top priority in our criminal justice system."
Watch our entire interview with D.A. Dudley by clicking below. The podcast version is here.