Priorities for Heather Adams as District Attorney

“Ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of Lancaster County and 
serving as prosecutors for the people.”

“Your Kid Matters”

School Safety has been front and center in recent years.  Nothing can be more important than protecting our children from threats of harm.  One of my biggest priorities in office is the creation of a school safety initiative called “Your Kid Matters.”  The initiative will serve as a proactive measure to ensure school safety and keep the momentum going on this very important topic.  Your Kid Matters will partner the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies together with school districts across Lancaster County to protect our students in public and private schools.  

The Your Kid Matters initiative will search for ways to complement existing efforts to address school safety issues by bringing together experts to gather intelligence and best practices centering around: 1.) response and communications; 2.) security risk assessments for school buildings; 3.) monitoring social media threats; and 4.) training teachers.  This coalition will serve to keep school safety in the spotlight and serve as a renewed commitment to showing all Lancaster County that their kid matters.

“Mentorship Makes a Difference”

In recent years, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office has lost experienced assistant district attorneys to other employment.  I plan to implement a specifically tailored training program for recently hired attorneys designed to mentor new members of the office over time as they grow into experienced prosecutors.  I believe that this approach will address the staffing retention rate and ensure proper training on office and county procedures from day one.

The training program will require newly hired attorneys to complete numerous tasks required of them as an assistant district attorney throughout the office during their initial six-month probationary period.  The tasks must be successfully performed under supervision of another more senior assistant district attorney in the office prior to being given the authority to perform the task on their own.  This allows new hires to see all aspects of the office prior to being assigned to a designated area of prosecution.

In short, this is no different than doctors being required to work rotations in all areas of medicine before selecting a specialty.  This program will marry the best interests and skills of the attorney to the specialty of prosecution where they will serve the citizens of Lancaster County.

“Combatting Opioids Together”

The Opioid crisis continues to be a problem of great concern in Lancaster County.  While improvements are being made in lives saved, there is more work to do in addressing the underlying addiction.  I will emphasize a multifaceted approach that would include education outreach and prevention, treatment followed by a structured recovery program, as well as enforcement of the Drug Act by collaborative efforts with all law enforcement agencies, local and federal. As part of this multifaceted approach, I will review current office policies on heroin related cases, diversion methods available to those first time offenders, community services available to those who suffer from an opioid addiction, and I plan to build a partnership with law enforcement to work on protocols for investigations and arrests.

I also plan to use all the tools available to me to ensure we are combatting this crisis on all levels, which includes diverting appropriate cases to Lancaster’s Drug Treatment Court Program.  I intend to expand eligibility for the Drug Treatment Court Program. Further, under my administration, the office will continue its participation in and support of Lancaster County Joining Forces initiative that began in April 2018.  This initiative aims to support and coordinate countywide efforts to reduce the number of deaths from opioid and heroin overdoses. The District Attorney’s office, under my administration, will have a vested interest in these programs and their successes.

Additional Priorities:

Sustainability of the Lancaster County Drug Task Force: The Lancaster County Drug Task is facing a shortage of funds for the 2020 calendar year. The Drug Task Force consists of Lancaster County Detectives and police officers with various local departments. The Drug Task Force is funded by contributions from local municipalities in Lancaster County, the PA Office of Attorney General, and seizure of drug dealer assets that have been forfeited to the Court. I will work to secure funding through the County for this important program that helps us keep our streets safe from the work of drug dealers. First, I will work with the county commissioners to secure a level of funding through the County with the understanding that transparency of the utilization of the funds contained in the forfeiture account, as provided by law, is a must. I will also review the current forfeiture policies to ensure that appropriate seizures are being made and that funds are being used to protect our communities through the enforcement of the Drug Act. Finally, I will work with county law enforcement agencies to make sure that economic efficiencies are being used through agency to agency communication, focusing on joint investigations when appropriate. Not only is this good economic policy, but the results are a more thorough investigation, larger seizures, shared profits and ultimately, accountability for those responsible for this plague in our community.

Mental Health Issues: While Lancaster has a Mental Health Court, a number of offenders who suffer from mental illness are ineligible to participate in that program or have committed a low level offense that do not justify participation in such a long-term program. I will work to divert these classes of defendants away from the criminal justice system where appropriate and into our available community-based programs. Mental health issues must be identified early on so that individuals can receive the proper support that they need in order to return to being a productive member of society, rather than focusing on punishing someone who needs help to overcome the medical condition they suffer from. In order to reduce criminal activity, law enforcement, the court, the District Attorney’s office and community service providers must work together. I believe the District Attorney’s Office has a responsibility to recognize cases where mental illness played a role and to make sure those defendants are getting access to the resources that are available while of course continuing to protect the public. Such diversion can reduce costs of housing someone in the county prison, reduce recidivism, and provide the much-needed treatment the individual may need.