The three San Diego County district attorney candidates discussed how they'd address such problems as human trafficking, overcrowded prisons and racial profiling at a forum Wednesday night hosted by the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.
San Diego attorney Bob Brewer and Terri Wyatt, former deputy district attorney, are trying to unseat three-term incumbent Bonnie Dumanis in the June 3 primary election.
The hour-long debate at the University of San Diego's Shiley Theatre was cordial, with the candidates re-iterating several of the talking points they have aired throughout the campaign.
Brewer used the venue as an opportunity to correct a mistake he feels Dumanis has been perpetuating – her assertion that she started the San Diego Superior Court's drug court program.
He claimed that honor goes to Ann Barber, a former deputy district attorney, retired Superior Court Judge David Ryan and Dumanis' predecessor as district attorney, Paul Pfingst.
But Dumanis responded by saying the trio began a separate drug court in North County, different from the program she helped launch in the Central Division, which she said was the first one to include law enforcement.
Brewer also challenged the notion that crime has declined since Dumanis took over as district attorney.
"There certainly are categories of crime that are declining, but there are also categories of crime that are increasing," he said. "And it's not decreasing all around the county."
Brewer said crime has increased by 14 percent in El Cajon, and is also on the rise in La Mesa and Lemon Grove.
Additionally, he said that before the homicide rate in San Diego County declined by 33 percent last year, the number of murders went from 69 in 2010 to 107 in 2012.
"So we can't generally say crime is down," Brewer said. "Crime vacillates. It goes up and down, and because of that, we have increased people in custody."
Wyatt and Brewer both came out strongly against Assembly Bill 109, the legislation that shifted a portion of the state's prison population to county jails. Wyatt even said she'll support any efforts to repeal the law and called it a "mistake."
"I don't think we solve our state budget problems by pushing down state criminals to be serving time in our local county jails," Wyatt said. "I think it [AB 109] has been a disaster for all of us."
Brewer pointed out that it wasn't a budgetary problem but one forced on the state by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, ordering California to reduce its state prison population.
He said it's meant that 30,000 state prisoners have been placed in county facilities or released on probation, a number Dumanis disagreed with.
"It was a terrible situation, but California created it itself," Brewer said. "The people In Sacramento did not plan on housing 172 percent [of capacity] of the state's prison system. Shame on them. Now we're living with the result, and it is a huge problem."
Dumanis said the legislation will only affect future nonviolent offenders, who will be housed in county jails instead of state prisons.
All three candidates agreed that it is important for undocumented immigrants to know they won't be deported if they report a crime.
"I'm trying to make the District Attorney's Office acceptable to all communities because I'm the district attorney of all people," Dumanis said. "If you're a victim of a crime, I want you to feel comfortable that you can come to us and not be afraid in any way."
Brewer said he would follow the Trust Act, which went into effect in January, which prevents local jails from holding people for extra time solely for deportation purposes.
All of the candidates also said they supported programs that divert juveniles away from the criminal justice system.
Wyatt said she wants to move funds that are directed at rehabilitating adult parolees who have be in and out of prison to help juvenile offenders.
The debate also covered the increasing problem of human trafficking, which all three candidates said was important to address.
Brewer wants to emulate a program started by the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office called the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).
It is a public-private venture tasked with finding the victims of human trafficking and prosecuting the perpetrators. He also said he would convene a summit of thought leaders to help solve the problem.
Dumanis said she's already convened a summit on the subject, which included law enforcement and the county Board of Supervisors.
Wyatt used her closing remarks to call out what she sees as Brewer's inexperience as a prosecutor, saying his stint as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles in the late 1970s was "a long time" ago.
"If it's time for a change – and I think people feel it's time for a change – then it should be the right change," she said. "It needs to be a career prosecutor, not a politician and not somebody grandstanding or looking for a job for ego purposes."
Brewer noted that he has held several leadership positions throughout his career, including as assistant chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. He said he has the backing of 98 percent of the police officers associations in the county.
"There is no question it's time for a change," he said. "I have the experience; I have the passion; I have the individuals who will support me."
Dumanis touted the diversity of her office, saying 50 percent of her executive team is Latino and a third of the office's total employees are Latino.
"My whole entire life has been dedicated to equal justice for everyone," she said. "What really motivates me is I am passionate about making sure victims are protected."