Dept. of Justice aiming for spending hike

 

DOVER — The Department of Justice is seeking a 3.4 percent budget increase to help deal with a spate of crime and resulting prosecutions.

Attorney General Matt Denn appeared before state budget officials Thursday to detail the agency’s request for $37.8 million, an amount that exceeds the $35.7 million allocated to it for the current fiscal year.

Without additional resources, chiefly more people, the department will “eventually” be unable to prosecute every crime, Mr. Denn said.

“The top priorities in our budget request are straightforward: We’re seeking help with our ability to carry out our core public safety responsibilities,” he said. “Our ability to carry out our very basic functions, such as prosecuting crimes and protecting Delaware children is really being impaired by unacceptable caseloads that our very talented attorneys and staff are being asked to carry, and if those caseloads aren’t addressed, it’s inevitably going to affect the quality of the work, which in turn will have an impact on the safety and security of Delawareans.”

Homicides are rising, with 116 individuals — more than in the borough of Manhattan, according to Mr. Denn — currently facing murder charges in the state. The cases are increasingly more complex because they are sometimes intertwined with gang violence and involve body camera footage, which requires additional time and people to examine.

Matt Denn

Matt Denn

Several police agencies in the state, such as Wilmington, Smyrna and Milford, currently use body cameras. Gov. Jack Markell proposed providing them as tools for Delaware State Police earlier this year but lawmakers removed the funding.

While cameras can help solve crimes, they raise other issues, such as “significantly increasing the time that’s needed for criminal and family division prosecutors and staff to handle cases where video is present,” Mr. Denn said.

His top priority is one more New Castle County prosecutor, although the attorney general is also seeking a Kent County paralegal, a domestic violence investigator and a juvenile delinquency prosecutor, among other asks.

Due to an anticipated deficit of at least $200 million, the agency, like all others, is prepared for a budget that would include a 1 percent reduction in spending. Such a cut would likely come from less travel and fewer expert witnesses.

Budget hearings continue today with the University of Delaware, among others.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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