Thien Ho is Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, and is running for Sacramento County District Attorney.
Ho and his family also escaped communist Vietnam and came to the United States in 1976, a year after the fall of South Vietnam, settling in Stockton after a brief stay in a refugee camp, and then moved to San Jose.
The Globe met with Assistant Chief Ho for an interview and to talk about his candidacy for Sacramento DA, with current Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert leaving to run for California Attorney General.
Ho’s story is compelling, because as with most immigrants from communist countries, the intense appreciation for individual freedom and capitalism, and concern for the human condition is cherished in the U.S. “We are the gatekeepers to a system of due process in the United States,” Ho said.
Assistant Chief Ho has worked at the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office for 18 years, on misdemeanors, sex crimes, on the gang team, the homicide team, and he prosecuted the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, one of the nation’s most prolific and notorious serial killers who committed 13 murders and upwards of 50 sexual assaults in 11 different jurisdictions throughout California.
There are 432 employees at the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, 175 are prosecutors. On any given day there are 150 misdemeanor cases, and 300 to 400 felony cases, along with 20 to 30 homicide cases. Needless to say, they are very busy.
As the Assistant Chief in charge of community relations and prosecution, Ho is in charge of the Community Prosecution team, with one prosecutor assigned to each council district, except downtown Sacramento. These prosecutors work with police and Sheriffs to intercede and intervene and prosecute quality of life crimes including trespassing, vandalism, graffiti, drug activity, prostitution, disturbing the peace, and with the many Property Business Improvement Districts in Sacramento County. Ho said he wants to see a Community Prosecutor assigned to downtown Sacramento to address low level quality-of-life crimes.
The rise in crime in Los Angeles and San Francisco is up 40%, and Sacramento is on par for more than a 100% increase. Ho said incarcerating many of the lower level homeless criminals isn’t working. “They need services in jail first, then they can be transitioned into housing,” Assistant Chief Ho said. But he also said the “housing first” policy for criminal homeless isn’t the answer. There must be treatment in order for the individuals to ever have a chance to succeed once they are housed, Ho said. “We must stabilize homeless first, then housing, but currently there aren’t enough beds.”
Ho said Sacramento needs a large campus where homeless can be taken, assessed and triaged, and treated before housing is provided.
Ho said the homeless epidemic in Sacramento is such an oversized problem, he wants to bring the city council and county supervisors together to come up with an actual plan for solutions. “The DA’s office can be a real influencer to bring together the city and county to come up with treatment and then housing,” Ho said.
Ho says this can be achieved by:
- Expanding the Mental Health Treatment Court, where judges can collaborate with health professionals and all the parties to oversee a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation plan.
- Building addiction and mental health facilities that can serve as secure treatment sanctuaries, not jails or prisons.
- Expanding programs that divert homeless defendants away from incarceration into mental health and drug treatment programs.
“Public safety, homeless crisis, mental health and drug addiction are priorities,” Ho said.
We discussed public safety and rising crime in Sacramento. Ho said small business owners are constantly worried about theft and violence. He wants to create a Crime Strategies Unit “that utilizes data analytics to identify trends and efficiently combat crimes involving illegal guns, gang violence, and rampant theft.”
“Zero bail failed,” Ho said. He wants to create a bail policy equitable to all communities while ensuring public safety and accountability. “We must determine who stays in jail pretrial based on their risk to public safety and not by how much they have in their bank account.”
“I want mothers to feel safe letting their children ride bikes to the park,” Ho said.
Notably, Ho said he wants to create a Neighborhood Court that diverts first time, non-violent misdemeanor offenders to an alternative court run by local community panelists.
And, important to Ho is the need to protect victims, “especially those of violent crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault and homicides, making sure that their voices are heard and never silenced.”
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