[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014:]
Q & A:
Interview with Neighborhood Prosecutor
Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri
Earlier this year City Attorney Mike Feuer revived the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which had been disbanded in 2010 due to budget cuts. The program attaches a Neighborhood Prosecutor to every police division in the city to serve as a liaison between law enforcement – as well as other city agencies – and the community. The prosecutors are tasked with overseeing a range of quality of life issues from nuisance abatement and code enforcement to gang activity and other threats to public safety.
Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri was assigned in May 2014 as the Neighborhood Prosecutor for the LAPD Wilshire Division [see map], which includes the Miracle Mile. A native of Los Angeles, Zahiri attended UCLA and the Southwestern School of Law and previously worked for a firm that provided prosecutorial services for cities in Los Angeles County. Ms. Zahiri was interviewed November 12, 2014 at the Wilshire Division police station:
What is a neighborhood prosecutor?
While that question sounds easy to answer, I am learning that it can mean a variety of things. On a daily basis, I answer and look into a multitude of issues. What I’ve been telling the community is to contact me, give me the information, and if it is something that I can have an impact on, or help with, then I’m more than happy to contribute. Many issues, for example, auto repair on the street, have departments enlisted to enforce the applicable regulations. In these cases, it might involve me calling that department and explaining to them what is going on, as well as the seriousness of the issue. Further, I can explain to these departments that I will ultimately participate in the enforcement actions, should voluntary compliance not be obtained. In the past, a lot of these cases sort of got lost in the system. With a Neighborhood Prosecutor at the station, and aware of the particular issues, we can ensure that the issues are given the care and attention they need in order to be resolved.
Often the frustrations of the residents are compounded by not knowing who to complain to. There are so many different departments: animal services, building and safety, parking enforcement. Isn’t one of your roles to educate people in how to complain?
Yes. I am continuously learning about the different departments and agencies in the City, as well as the available services. If a community member has a particular issue they are unsure of where to direct, I can most certainly guide them to the appropriate department. 3-1-1 is also a wonderful resource. One of the things I’m learning is that many of the departments are overwhelmed. Therefore, complaints sometimes do not get answered as quickly as we’d like. And due to the lapse in time between a complaint being submitted, and then addressed, once an investigation is conducted the issue might not be present. If I know about the issue, and know the possibility of the particular agency being unable to investigate the situation, I can work to get another department or agency involved in order to address the issue. I can also be in touch with the complainant in order to ensure we have all necessary details.
That raises an interesting question in terms of the hierarchy of complaints. So, when you have a situation with multiple agencies involved, who is on first, who is on second, or does the City Attorney’s office trump them all?
My advice is, if it’s a new complaint and you have not yet referred it to the agency that is meant to address that particular issue–start there. File a complaint. If you don’t feel that it’s being addressed, then let me know and if there is something I can do, I will. As I mentioned earlier, many of these agencies are overwhelmed and knowing that there is an attorney who will be there once they have conducted their investigation helps. They know that once they get a package prepared, it’s going to get the attention it deserves.
Prop 47 was just approved, which shifted a number of felony crimes downwards to misdemeanors. Will that have an impact on the neighborhood prosecutors?
It is too early to say. At this point, the cases will probably go through our normal misdemeanor channels. Due to the number of cases that will now go to the City Attorney’s office based on Prop 47, we will be there to assist and contribute in any way we can to ease the process. It is likely that new Deputy City Attorneys will be hired to assist with the new case load.
Many people don’t realize that the City Attorney handles criminal cases.
We do, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office handles all misdemeanor filings in the City. These misdemeanors can include anything from DUI offenses, to family violence cases, to drug cases. Many crimes are considered “wobblers.” This means they can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. In this regard, the City does handle very serious criminal cases.
Are you getting hit with a lot of these quality of life issues?
Very much so. I ‘ve attended various Neighborhood Council meetings, as well as other neighborhood association meetings, and much of the community has gotten to know me – and how to contact me with their issues. Additionally, I intentionally sit beside the Senior Lead Officers when I’m at the station so that I have immediate contact when they are getting complaints and I can be aware of them.
Do you spend most of your time downtown or at the Wilshire station?
It’s sort of a mix. I have a desk at both locations. There are benefits with being at both locations. If I’m filing a complaint, or need to brainstorm with other Neighborhood Prosecutors, it is great to be at City Hall. While being at the station allows me to have direct contact with the community and the officers.
If you file a complaint are you the attorney handling it at court?
Yes. As a Neighborhood Prosecutor, vertical prosecution is a great tool. A lot of times after general quality of life crime makes their way through all the necessary channels, and to court, the appearing attorney cannot be aware of the significance of the issue, or the particular sentence that can abate and remedy the issue for the community. And because we are in the community, and have directly filed that case, we are aware of its significance, and the best way to handle it.
Given the budget cuts that the courts have gone through – the backlog of cases – does it have an impact on your work?
It does. Although prosecution is a tool, and for many cases the only tool, we as Neighborhood Prosecutors can use other tools and methods to obtain results without necessarily filing cases and prosecuting them in the court.
So you directly interface with the parties involved in a complaint?
Yes, I usually have directly interfaced with the individual who brought the original complaint. And if the complaint can be resolved without utilizing the court system, then we will go that route.
That would seem to be very effective, because you are implying that we can resolve this here or in court.
It is. Many times, explaining the law, as well as the possible repercussions to failing to comply can resolve an issue. If the problem can be resolved this way, then we can save the time and resources it takes to get something before a court. Our goal is not to go to prosecute, but to abate the issue in an effective manner.
Give us a short lesson in how to properly complain.
Start off with complaining to the right department. If you don’t know which department to contact, either contact me or call 3-1-1, they’ll help you. Keep records, and take photos if possible. Of course, never put yourself in any kind of danger while gathering evidence. Check back with that department to find out who the inspector assigned to your case is, and you can contact them directly if you need further information. For many issues, it can be appropriate to bring me in from the beginning. It’s important that people feel free to contact me, that’s my job: to serve the neighborhood.
What’s the best way to contact you?
Email is definitely the best way.
Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri
Wilshire Neighborhood Prosecutor