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AG Office Initiatives
By Adam Eisenstein, NAAG Visiting Fellow
Michigan Works to Stem Violent Crimes and Increase Public Faith in Government
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has launched several initiatives aimed at tackling the legal issues facing his state. These programs are both wide-ranging and far-reaching, affecting many different areas of the government and the community. From stemming violent crimes to cyber crimes, and from helping crime victims to increasing public faith in government, the Attorney General is looking to tackle tough problems through these new initiatives:
Human Trafficking Unit
The Michigan Legislature passed a state statute outlawing human trafficking in 2006, but until recently prosecutors had not charged any suspected human traffickers. Attorney General Schuette has formed a special unit dedicated to human trafficking offenses, comprised of in-house lawyers, legislative specialists, and communication experts. They are tasked with prosecutions under state laws, working with the Legislature to strengthen the laws, training law enforcement officers, raising public awareness of human trafficking offenses in an effort to identify victims, and providing aid to those victims. These human trafficking offenses can be labor-oriented (domestic servitude, factory/restaurant work) or sexual exploitation (especially involving minors). The unit which, works with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, secured its first conviction in March of this year.
Tackling Violent Crime
Flint, a city about an hour north of Detroit, has been called the “most violent city in the United States.” To combat this crime epidemic, Attorney General Schuette is working with local, state and federal officials to create a collaborative approach to combatting this problem. One significant challenge for the city was the huge number of outstanding felony and misdemeanor warrants, over 40,000, that could not be executed due to a lack of police resources and an overcrowded prison system. Attorney General Schuette worked with law enforcement from across the region to conduct a large warrant sweep that resulted in the arrest of more than 100 suspects. During this sweep, law enforcement officers targeted habitual offenders facing narcotics and/or gun charges, as well as those with known gang affiliations. The Attorney General also worked with the Michigan Governor to appropriate over $1 million to incarcerate these arrested individuals. Collaborative efforts to improve public safety in the city remain ongoing.
Public Integrity Unit
The Public Integrity Unit is tasked with prosecuting public officials or employees who use their positions of trust for personal gain. This separate group of experienced prosecutors is located within the Attorney General’s Office Criminal Division, and partners with federal and state law enforcement agencies to identify instances of public corruption, uncover evidence, and initiate prosecutions. Mainly focusing on crimes such as embezzlement, bribery, and misconduct in office, the Public Integrity Unit hopes to improve public trust in government by strongly punishing transgressions and making examples of those officials who do disregard the law.
Owing to the necessity of providing individuals with hope and a plan after being victimized by a crime, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has launched the Crime Victims’ Rights initiative. This program aims to construct a statewide network of crime victims and advocacy groups, with the goals of growing influence in state policy debates, media education, and knowledge of crime victims’ services. Through this network, the Attorney General hopes to coordinate the collection of various organizations and advocates dedicated to helping crime victims, a collection that is currently somewhat sprawling and disjointed. Law enforcement and direct service providers are natural advocates for crime victims, but agencies are increasingly facing tight budgets. Also, rapidly evolving criminalization, such as ID theft and mortgage fraud, transcends jurisdictional boundaries and requires greater collaboration. The goal is to establish a common set of resources and a network to act as a state-wide “voice for victims.”
Cyber Safety Initiative
To help spread the word about the importance of protecting private digital information and guarding against Internet scams and similar frauds, Attorney General Schuette launched the Cyber Safety Initiative (CSI). CSI is responsible for creating a series of customized presentations detailing the importance of cyber safety. Children aged 5-15 are taught the basics of going online and what dangers are out there. With a yearly goal of reaching over 150,000 children through live presentations, CSI has already provided presentations to over 700,000.
CSI is implemented by an in-house team that creates specialized PowerPoint presentations, but then hires and trains independent contractors to deliver the seminars across the state. The Attorney General records a brief introduction for each presentation, and the Attorney General’s Office monitors current trends and feedback, updating the programs as necessary.
Connecticut Privacy Task Force
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has taken steps to protect the private information of Connecticut citizens. He formed a Privacy Task Force in September 2011 to focus on investigations into Internet privacy concerns and data breaches that affect consumers. The Privacy Task Force also helps educate the public on the importance of protecting personal information. “The need for this initiative is well demonstrated. Internet and data privacy have been among the biggest issues affecting the broad public interest since I took office,” Attorney General Jepsen said.
The Task Force is comprised of four attorneys from Attorney General Jepsen’s staff who have interest, experience or expertise in data privacy issues involving consumer protection, finance and health care fraud. Their participation on the Task Force will be part of, or in addition to, their assigned responsibilities, and they report directly to the associate attorney general for Litigation, the deputy attorney general and the Attorney General himself. The Task Force, which is responsible for all office investigations of consumer privacy breaches, has already conducted dozens of investigations into the loss of medical, insurance and personal consumer records, as well as the collection of personally identifiable information without authorization. The Task Force will also be in charge of informing individuals about Internet security breaches that affect them.
Aside from conducting specific investigations, the Task Force is also responsible for educating the public and business communities about their responsibilities concerning private online information. The Task Force is collecting data about current practices, and to that end has met with representatives of several major corporations regarding the practices they use to protect sensitive information. Task Force members first met with the leaders of the local finance, insurance, medical, education and technology industries, and these meetings have included high-level representatives, ranging from general counsel to IT and corporate compliance departments. The most significant meetings so far have involved discussing consumer privacy issues with Internet giants Facebook and Google. Similar meetings will be held with small businesses to develop a multi-layered perspective on how entities of all sizes and across all fields are collecting, securing and disposing of sensitive information. The Task Force also monitors the evolving legal landscape in the privacy realm by reviewing proposed legislation and regulations, as well as pertinent judicial decisions and empirical studies.