John Savrnoch talks to the News-Press about his goals
No one would have blamed new District Attorney John Savrnoch if during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday he had taken a moment or two to relish, even savor the moment.
After all, after 30 years as a prosecutor, the last seven as assistant district attorney under former District Attorney Joyce Dudley, he had reached the pinnacle of his career. Why shouldn’t he feel more than a bit of pride?
But that wasn’t where his mind went. Instead, his thoughts were on the mission ahead, and on the person who he was replacing.
“I was feeling great excitement about the opportunity to serve the public at this level and leading such an amazing staff,” he told the News-Press in an exclusive interview. “There was also a tinge of sadness as I felt like I was saying goodbye to my mentor and friend Joyce Dudley.”
Ms. Dudley told him he was going to make an outstanding district attorney for Santa Barbara County. “It is my highest honor to swear you in.”
As he did during the election campaign and at his swearing-in ceremony, newly sworn-in District Attorney Savrnoch made it clear what tops his agenda.
“Safe neighborhoods, safe homes and safe roads are my top priorities,” he said. “Gun violence, domestic violence and DUIs cause tremendous harm to individuals and the public at large so these issues will be a focus.”
He declined to give his opinion about other district attorneys across the nation who have been accused of being too “progressive” and “soft on crime,” allowing criminals convicted of violent felonies to be released too soon where they pick up where they left off and re-offend, including hurting more innocent people.
“I will not comment about other D.As, but I will say that it is my belief that the people of this county want safe neighborhoods. They do not want to be at risk of being victims of gun and other violence, and they do not want to live in neighborhoods that live under the oppressive terror of criminal street gangs,” he said.
“It is also my belief that the people of Santa Barbara County want to live free from the fear that out-of-the-area criminal street gangs will enter our county to commit burglaries and violent crimes.
“The people of this great county also expect to be able to drive on the highways and roads without being injured or killed by impaired drivers. I believe that violent criminals and impaired drivers should be subject to the punishments that are provided for in the California Penal Code.”
However, he said that it’s also his belief “that the people of this county recognize that those suffering from serious mental health issues need treatment that is not maximized in a penal institution. We need to continue to work with all members of the criminal justice and mental health systems to find treatment options and locations that address serious mental illness while keeping the public safe.”
His first month in office will be spent ensuring that prosecutions and other operations continue functioning at a high level as he establishes the management structure of the office.
During his swearing-in ceremony, he praised his entire staff, from the attorneys to the support staff to the Bureau of Investigations, and promised to make certain they have the resources to do their job.
“I want to say to the people in the office: What Joyce has given me is the most incredible group of people, people who work every day to benefit the public,” he said.
As district attorney, he wants to “utilize prosecutions and public outreach to reduce DUI deaths and injuries; work with law enforcement to reduce gun violence; continue to work with law enforcement and other agencies to reduce in-home violence; and to develop alternatives to traditional prosecutions to reduce recidivism by providing treatment and programming designed to change the behavior of individuals before they are firmly and seriously entrenched in the criminal justice system.”
That’s why two of his immediate goals are 1) to expand the Neighborhood Restorative Justice program that was established in Goleta under his supervision so that it becomes available countywide and 2) continue work on a felony diversion program.
“The process of establishing a program for felony diversion of low-level offenders was begun under D.A. Dudley, and I am committed to exploring and developing a program that is evidence-based and designed to reduce recidivism and provide positive outcomes for victims and those individuals who end up in the program,” he said.
“We are working with nationwide experts in the field of evidence-based diversion programs to establish the need for and design of a felony diversion program. I will continue to be actively involved in these programs and their implementation.”
He also pledged to continue to have strong input on all significant cases that are handled by his office, noting that he has worked as a deputy district attorney, chief deputy D.A., assistant D.A. and chief assistant D.A., “and in those roles I have prosecuted and/or overseen the prosecution of all case types, including consumer and environmental cases.”
In addition to the agenda he’s laid out for himself and his office as district attorney, Mr. Savrnoch said he will continue to serve as a member of the board of directors for CADA (the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse), “which, like my involvement in the Rotary Club of Goleta, is community service that I engage in separate from my role as district attorney.
“Community service and community involvement is important to me on a personal and philosophical level.”