With no incumbent for the first time in almost 25 years, the position of district attorney is under close contention by two UCSB alumni and a current assistant district attorney.
District Attorney Thomas Sneddon is retiring after 23 years in office, and the three opponents vying to replace him include Assistant District Attorney Christie Stanley and private attorneys Doug Hayes and Gary Dunlap. In their campaigns, Dunlap and Hayes both promised to revamp the district attorney’s office and ease penalties for petty crimes, while Stanley said she hopes to maintain and improve Sneddon’s existing policies.
Dunlap, a UCSB alumnus, said he thinks one of the major issues in the election is overcrowding in the county jail. He said he feels that the district attorney’s office puts too many individuals behind bars, and that charging people for minor offenses often turns them into criminals when they do not deserve such a label. Dunlap said he is worried that unnecessarily pressing felony charges against those who commit less serious crimes will hurt their chances for future employment.
“[The DA’s office] is criminalizing too large a segment of the population, which they immediately lose as an economic base,” Dunlap said.
Hayes, a former deputy district attorney and another UCSB alumnus, said he agrees that the district attorney’s office has been too harsh on people who commit petty crimes, like many of the people arrested in Isla Vista. Hayes said he is willing to dismiss petty charges, such as minor in possession of alcohol citations and possession of small amounts of marijuana, if violators convince him that they will not repeat their illegal behavior. He said he wants to implement a probation program through the district attorney’s office, and said he will personally meet with offenders to decide whether to drop a case or press charges.
“I don’t want [the police] to go busting up parties because of loud music, or go scoop up [resident’s] marijuana and take them to jail – I don’t like that ‘Nazi’ stuff,” Hayes said.
Stanley, who has been the assistant district attorney for the northern part of the county for 15 years, said she has Sneddon’s official endorsement. She said she thinks policing and trying alcohol-related offenses helps ensure the safety of the community, and she hopes to educate students about the dangers of illegal drinking.
“We recognize that [alcohol-related offenses] are often the beginning of larger crimes,” Stanley said.
Both Dunlap and Hayes said they would try to alter the county’s current methods for dealing with convicted criminals after their release from jail, while Stanley said she would focus on keeping and perfecting the county’s existing policies.
Dunlap said he thinks placing individuals on extended probation is a waste of taxpayer money. He said he will try violent criminals harshly, but he said he thinks that people charged for minor first offenses should not be placed on probation. Dunlap said he thinks the county’s policy of prosecuting people for minor offenses should be replaced with other penalties, such as work programs.
“I’m going to say, ‘How can we not prosecute this case?’ … rather than, ‘How can we force this guy into pleading guilty?'” Hayes said.
Hayes said he also thinks that probation is a waste of tax dollars because it is not an effective way to prevent criminals from repeating their offenses. He said he thinks the county should start referring convicted criminals to one of several nonprofit organizations in the area that help criminals find jobs instead.
“I just want to prevent these kids from getting [extensive criminal records],” Hayes said.
All three candidates said they think gang violence is a problem throughout the county, but they do not agree on a specific method to reduce the violence. Hayes said that if he is elected, he wants former gang members to speak to teenagers and dissuade them from joining gangs. On the other hand, Stanley said the district attorney’s office needs to prosecute more gang members.