ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY PRESS RELEASE
*The full report is available on OCDA’s website
SANTA ANA –An independent consulting firm has published the performance audit of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA). The audit was conducted by Altmayer Consulting (Altmayer) and focused on the daily operation and management of the OCDA divisions, including Branch Court Operations, General Felonies/Economic Crimes, Special Projects, Vertical Prosecutions/Violent Crimes, Administrative Services, and the Bureau of Investigation.
The report, which describes the OCDA as performing at a “high-level,” includes findings and recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Process of Choosing Independent Firm Uniquely Qualified to Conduct Audit
In November 2013, the then-Performance Audit Director, Phillip Cheng, and the OCDA met to discuss an audit in 2015, but that audit would later be moved to an earlier date in 2014 by the Board of Supervisors.
In August 2014, Performance Audit Director Cheng met with the OCDA again, and a day later, presented the Office with a scope of work outlining their proposed audit, including a review of OCDA’s allocation of resources, conviction rate, investigative and prosecutorial methodology, and deliberative process.
In October 2014, Altmayer was retained by the OCDA to conduct an independent performance audit of the Office. The firm’s previous audits in 1999 and 2007 made this firm uniquely familiar with OCDA, including its prosecutorial and investigative functions, existing organizational structure, established policy, strategies and goals, personnel distribution and training. Altmayer has considerable experience in providing performance-oriented evaluations with a focus on designing organizational structures and processes directed toward achieving the desired results in other government agencies, including several other government law offices. The firm has a deeper understanding with regard to the functions and procedures of a large prosecutorial agency, without a steep learning curve that a government auditor without that experience would have had. Altmayer was chosen as an independent firm to conduct a thorough and proper audit, free of undue influence by county government and politics. For this third audit, an outside universally respected veteran prosecutor, with no connections to the Office, was utilized to supplement the audit.
In December 2014, Performance Audit Director Cheng met with the OCDA, Altmayer, officials from the County Executive Officer’s (CEO) Office, and County Counsel to review Altmayer’s methodology. In the meeting, Performance Audit Director Cheng expressed that he agreed with their methodology, acknowledged Altmayer’s expertise and approved their approach.
Altmayer Personnel Who Conducted the Audit
Altmayer’s unique expertise in policies and procedures of public legal issues and investigations and prosecution of criminal cases, as well as their experience, made the firm especially well-suited to conduct a performance audit of a large prosecutorial agency like the OCDA. The project team included Thomas Altmayer and Patrick Dixon.
Thomas Altmayer is a former public law attorney and consultant to the public sector as well as law enforcement agencies. He has 24 years of experience specializing in performance management consulting for the public sector, including the criminal justice system. Mr. Altmayer served as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Santa Clarita and the City of El Segundo.
Patrick Dixon is a retired 37-year veteran prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. As an executive there, he assisted in the daily operations of the Office, supervised 370 deputy district attorneys, and managed 16 trial divisions that handled complex, high-profile, and capital cases. Dixon was named “top prosecutor” by multiple professional organizations, including the National District Attorneys Association and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.
Recently, Altmayer concluded performance assessments and/or organizational studies for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, Los Angeles County Child Support Division, Orange County Transportation Authority, First 5 Alameda County, Los Angeles County Transportation Authority, and Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services.
Audit Procedures and Outcome
Between October 2014 and April 2015, Altmayer conducted an audit of OCDA in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards and specifically pre-approved methodology, and carried it out in three phases. In the first phase, they conducted interviews with management and staff within each of the Office’s units. This included 60 confidential and anonymous interviews of supervisors, prosecutors, Investigators, paralegals, and clerical and administrative staff. They also collected data and documentation regarding the staffing and workload of each unit. The second phase focused on the preliminary findings and recommendations, which required follow-up interviews and additional documentation. The third phase was dedicated to drafting the final report with the findings and recommendations to improve the overall performance of the Office.
Key findings mentioned in the report:
Conviction rate for adult cases filed as felonies over the past three years has been 92 percent in 2012, 92 percent in 2013, and 93 percent in 2014, compared to the state average of 84 percent in 2012. Units with over a 90 percent conviction rate in 2014 include Gangs, Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET), Family Protection, Felony Panel, Insurance Fraud, and Sexual Assault.
Innovative Programs and Initiatives:
In addition to exceeding their key performance target, the Office has also undertaken a number of innovative programs designed not only to improve law enforcement within the County, but also to improve how the Office prosecutes certain types of crimes.
These programs include:
DNA Database – In 2007, the Office began a program to develop a local DNA database for use in evaluating crime scene DNA that may not be included in the State’s database. Through voluntary and local diversion program, the Office has developed a significant database of DNA samples. Additionally, the Office has developed a rapid DNA test allowing it to process crime scene samples within two hours.
Human Trafficking – In 2013, the Office formed the Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit. The intent of the unit is to focus on the prosecution of those perpetrating the sex and labor slave trade, rather than on the female victims.
Vehicular Homicide Team – In 2008, the Office established the Vehicular Homicide team with the Homicide Unit. The unit includes specialized investigators trained in accident reconstruction to investigate this unique type of crime scene.
Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (GRIP)– GRIP is a partnership between the Office and local law enforcement agencies that identified at-risk youth with the goal of increasing school attendance and decreasing gang activity.
Some Key Recommendations:
- Institute a full time training division headed by an assistant district attorney that is responsible for designing and implementing a training program for the Office.
- Develop a Major Case Committee to provide ongoing oversight of high-risk and high-profile cases within the Office.
- Membership on the committee could include the District Attorney and all of the Senior Assistants as well as other senior attorneys with significant experience. This committee could also be responsible for approving the use of jailhouse informants in any case within the Office.
- Develop a formal job description for the role of a supervisor within the legal division and train supervisors on how to achieve success in that role and should include a summary of key expectations and provide basic structures and practices to ensure those expectations are being met.
- The Office should continue to evaluate the staffing needs of the Branch Courts, Felony Panel, and the Units including Homicide, Gangs, TARGET, Family Protection, and Sexual Assault.
- Consider recruiting more field experts within the fraud units, where appropriate and reassigning Investigators to other units requiring the skills associated with sworn investigators.
- Based on a survey of user needs, develop a more comprehensive strategic technology plan. The focus of the plan should be to prioritize future technology investments based on the potential return on investment to the Office, and also provide training on all levels to capitalize on the use of the Office Case Management System.
- Create more formal opportunities for communication within the Office by implementing Office-wide manager meetings at least quarterly to allow for greater communications and camaraderie within the Office.
- Create more formal opportunities for recognition of accomplishments. In particular, a key role of supervisors should include recognition of significant achievements within their unit and the obligation to share those achievements up through the organization.
Altmayer found that OCDA was performing at a high-level and the recommendations given were designed to sustain the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the Office.
The OCDA has and will continue to address the areas that need improvement as part of the findings and recommendations.
To read the whole report, please visit www.orangecountyda.org and select “Altmayer Operational Audit Report,” from Reports and Settlements under the Reports pull-down menu.
TONY RACKAUCKAS, District Attorney
Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff