Hartford Community Court
fostered cynicism among police officers who saw their efforts go for naught when cases entered the court system. It also reinforced the belief that there were no conse- quences for low-level criminal behavior and no justice for quality-of-life victims (espe- cially victimized neighborhoods). After reading about the Midtown Court’s emphasis on holding individuals accountable for their behavior and witnessing Midtown offenders “pay back” the community, the State’s Attorney became an advocate of the community court concept.
Glenn Kaas, the first assigned prosecutor for the Hartford Community Court, had this to say about his role there:
I find that I am not as much enforcing state statutes and city ordinances as I am seeking compliance with contemporary community standards. And even though many of the cases I “prosecute” will end up in a dismissal,6 I find I am nonetheless gratified knowing that my participation in the process has led to hundreds of hours of community service work, that in all probability, would otherwise have been left undone.
The Police Joseph Croughwell, the Chief of Police, was well aware of the absence of meaningful sanctions for quality-of-life offenders. Though he shared the State’s Attorney’s skepticism of “boutique courts” in general, he saw the Community Court as an effective means for filling this sanctioning void.
Additionally, the Chief of Police shared the State’s Attorney’s frustration with how low-level cases had traditionally been handled. He remarked that, over the past sever- al years, quality-of-life enforcement had become a priority of his department, saying that cops strive to solve problems in the community. Moreover, he said that in recent years, the City of Hartford had adopted innovative practices, such as using civil nui- sance abatement laws, to address quality-of-life problems. Yet the potential effective- ness of intensified enforcement of disorderly offenses was limited by a lack of mean- ingful response from the court system.
Members of the Community Court’s planning team recognized that because line- level police officers are the “gatekeepers” of the criminal justice system, it was impor- tant that they buy into the concept of a Community Court. After all, a significant portion of the Court’s projected caseload volume would be dependent on officers’ aggressive response to “nuisance” offenses. Thus, planners worked to educate the police on how the Community Court would provide a meaningful response to low- level cases, trying to convince them that it would be worth their while to write sum- monses for them.
Police participation was seen as important in other ways. First, it was recognized as crucial that officers fill out summons information (on arrest location and nature of the offense) accurately, so that defendants could be assigned to appropriate commu-
6 By "dismissal," the prosecutor is referring to offering a plea agreement whereby when the defendant com- pletes an alternative sanction, his case is dismissed. As explained below, at the Community Court, the State's Attorney has modified his traditional adversarial stance for the sake of offering a constructive response to individual offenders and offenses.