law and disorder
by Barbara Boland
In late 1990, Michael D. Schrunk, District Attorney of Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon, assigned Wayne Pearson, one of his most experienced senior deputies, to work on a neighborhood-based project in Portland's inner-city Lloyd District Schrunk was responding to a group of Lloyd District business people who were concerned about the area's high crime rate and its consequences for the community. They wanted a special prosecutor to work in the district for one year. The results of the experiment, though different from what all parties had originally envisioned, proved highly popular with Portland citizens. Pearson is now the Lloyd District Neighborhood District Attorney (NDA). Within a few years, every district of Portland and Multnomah County had its own NDA.
Portland's experiment exemplifies an emerging nationwide change in the way many communities are addressing neighborhood crime. New institutional arrangements among citizens, police, and court attorneys are drawing the District Attorney's Office into the task of maintaining order, a job previously left to the police. The legal work required to do this is fundamentally different from prosecutors' traditional task of adversarial litigation, and is creating a powerful legal capacity for crime control that did not previously exist.
The first scholarly studies of police "order maintenance," were published in the 1960s and '70s in the midst of intense criticism of police. These studies characterized order maintenance not only as a police function distinct from the work of the court, but also as a police function outside the rule of law. Authors who observed police work firsthand consistently concluded that police officers handled order maintenance situations without reference to (or help from) the formal legal authority of the court or the law. Even the frequently cited 1982 "Broken Windows" article by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling--which first suggested that paying attention to disorderly behaviors prevents crime--concluded that there was not much the police could do to promote order under the law. For example, Wilson and Kelling cited the police reaction to gang-related disorder in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes project. Supported by project residents, the police concluded that they had no choice but, "In the words of one officer, '[to] kick ass.'"
Shortly after Wilson and Kelling wrote that article, conditions became even worse. The drug trade, which erupted suddenl