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Q&A : City Prosecutor in San Pedro Gets Tough on Jail Time

March 17, 1994|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ted Eden, 48, recently took over the San Pedro branch of the city attorney's office. As supervising deputy in the harbor area, he decides which cases will be prosecuted. Most often his caseload is filled with vandalism, theft and domestic violence cases, which are among the more common crimes in the area.

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Q: How do you see your job?

A: Well, the city attorney's office in San Pedro is responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor crimes that occur in Harbor Gateway, Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro. Felonies are prosecuted by the district attorney's office in Long Beach.

My job is to convict people and to protect the public. I don't develop grudges or hatreds against people, but I'm unforgiving in the prosecution of people I think are guilty.

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Q: And how would you describe yourself?

A: Myself? Well, I'm relaxed and easygoing. I like to believe people will do what's right because they're supposed to. You cannot presume that they're going to fail--you have to give people a chance. Also, I'm truthful and intelligent. I'm kind to children and I like dogs.

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Q: Are you from this area?

A: No, I grew up in San Diego, one of eight children raised by a mother who worked at a laundry. To make ends meet I would work at a tuna cannery. That's probably why I like San Pedro. This waterfront and the fishing boats remind me of my childhood.

We were poor, but we've all turned out well, I think. I just bought a house in Woodland Hills, but I like it here. I'll probably move to San Pedro later on.

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Q: What kind of crime is most prevalent in the harbor area?

A: The way crime affects citizens directly--and this is really everywhere, not just in the harbor area--is that most often it comes from people they know. If you look at situations where innocent bystanders are hurt, the really violent types of crime, such as gang crime or drive-bys, usually affects innocent bystanders when they happen to be around violent gang members they know. But drive-bys in the harbor area are down 86% because the gang truce has been holding so well. And a woman, for example, (is statistically) in more danger in her own home than she is outside--it's more likely that someone she loves is going to beat her up.

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Q: What about graffiti? There is a major concern in the harbor communities about cracking down on taggers.

A: Graffiti, of course, is a problem. But it's not the worst problem. It's something we don't like to see. The office does have a history of prosecuting people who (deface) other people's property.

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Q: Do you think that putting people in jail is a deterrent to crime?

A: Yes, I really think it is. For most people, just having the run-in with an officer and going to jail makes them ashamed enough that they don't want it to happen again. Remember, the great majority of people who commit crimes do not become repeat offenders. Only 25% of all criminals are repeat offenders.

I think jail time works because it's so unpleasant. You lose any say over your own life: You get up when someone else tells you to, you get dressed when someone tells you to, you do everything when someone else tells you to. It smells, it's overcrowded, it's dangerous and the food is bad. Also, you don't get control of the remote.

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Q: Is jail appropriate for all offenses?

A: I tell you, I used to believe that for a first-time offender you could go easy on them. But now I think that if someone is convicted of a crime they should spend some time, even a little time, even if it's only a few days, in jail.

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Q: Are you always pretty much of a hard-liner?

A: No, I'll give somebody a chance sometimes. If a public defender comes to me and convinces me that the suspect is really going straight, I'll sometimes go along with probation.

But I'll suspend the full sentence so that if they're not serious about it and they violate their probation or they're arrested again in six months, well they're going to max out on jail time.

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Q: How does rehabilitation play a role in the penal system? Can you punish and rehabilitate someone at the same time?

A: Punishment has its purposes, but I don't think you should punish a person thinking they'll be rehabilitated. That's not going to happen. I would much prefer to see the system deal with rehabilitation rather than punishment, but that's not plausible right now. There simply isn't money in the system for those kinds of programs.

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Q: How many cases does the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division send to the city attorney's office for prosecution each month?

A: If the rate remains the same, (as it has been in recent months), I'd say Harbor Division sends about 300 cases to the San Pedro city attorney's office and about 230 of them are brought to court.

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Q: Do you keep track of how many cases you win? Your conviction rate?

A: If an attorney can tell you how many cases they've won or lost it means they're dumping cases to make their rate higher. I think attorneys who can tell you their conviction rate are despicable.

Ted Eden Background: Ted Eden, the new supervising deputy city attorney in the harbor area, has a bachelor's degree in business administration from San Diego State, a master's degree from Indiana University at Bloomington and a law degree from UCLA. He rose to the position in San Pedro by trying cases in virtually every branch of the city attorney's office throughout his 13 years with the department. City Atty. James Hahn said he chose Eden for the position because in addition to his lengthy experience as a trial attorney, Eden's unflappable manner and poise make him ideal to supervise the office.

Personal: Single. Lives in Woodland Hills.

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