THE BRONX — Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark has requested nearly $4.5 million in additional funds from the City Council to help develop multiple new bureaus within her office, including a Rikers Island prosecution bureau, a public integrity bureau and an immigrant affairs unit.
The Rikers Island bureau, aimed at curbing violence at the jail, is one of the largest requests in the budget, with Clark asking for roughly $1.8 million to pay for staff including a bureau chief, trial prep assistants and assistant district attorneys with seven years of experience.
Clark has been adamant about the need to set up an office on Rikers Island and described doing so as a way to make the jail safer and bring real time investigations to it during her inauguration in January.
The budget describes prosecuting typical cases on Rikers as a complex, lengthy and painstaking process and maintains that creating a prosecution bureau for the jail is a "direct response to these concerns."
"This bureau will help ensure swift and just dispositions," according to the funding request. "Timely resolution of a defendant's Rikers charges will allow inmates to move on to state correctional facilities or to be released from New York City facilities."
The document also states that the office will demonstrate how serious the city is about prosecuting crimes at Rikers, improve the quality of these prosecutions and be an effective tool for gathering intelligence about the jail complex.
At a meeting on March 2, Clark said her office at Rikers was between six and eight weeks away from opening, and her budget hopes that the Office of Court Administration will staff a courtroom on the island as well to help deal with the growing backlog of criminal cases involving inmates.
Lucian Chalfen, director of public information for the court system, said they had engaged in "very preliminary" discussions with the Bronx DA's office about a court on Rikers Island and would need to discuss the idea further before deciding if they could move forward with it.
Clark also requested roughly $1.2 million to help staff a domestic violence complaint unit, $514,000 to help staff an immigrant affairs unit, $469,000 to help staff a conviction integrity unit and $396,000 to help staff a public integrity bureau.
The conviction integrity unit would focus on reducing the risk of wrongful convictions before cases go to trial and addressing concerns about prior prosecutions, while the public integrity bureau focuses on investigating misconduct among government officials.
Clark had faced criticism during her campaign that she would be reluctant to go after politicians as district attorney, as she was selected as the Democratic candidate for the position by party leaders rather than by voters.
Clark's office hopes to move the location for processing domestic violence complaints to 198 E. 161st St., close to the Family Justice Center and Crime Victims' Assistance Unit, to create a more comfortable environment for victims to speak with attorneys, according to the budget.
"This will permit prosecutors to establish contact with complainants at an early stage, when they are most receptive, and before they can be influenced in one direction or another by outside influences," the budget reads.
The immigrant affairs unit is responsible for handling financial fraud complaints that target immigrants, as well as helping both documented and undocumented immigrants who might be afraid of working with law enforcement, the budget states.
Although Clark noted that The Bronx had become a much safer place over the past few decades, she expressed concern that violent crime appeared to be starting to rise in the borough, citing a recent uptick in reported rapes and robberies.
"Bronx County has witnessed dramatic improvements in public safety since violent crime crested in 1990," Clark said in a statement. "But we must remain vigilant and promptly act to curb the slightest upturn."
The DA submitted her budget request on March 8 and expects to hear back in a couple of months.