By Rhashad R. Pittman
When Tori Verber Salazar started working for the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office 25 years ago, she did trial an witness prep as an intern. Today she is one of the leading homicide prosecutors in the region.
Having never lost a felony case throughout her career, Salazar is looking to be the top law enforcement officer in town. The Stockton native is vying to be the next district attorney of San Joaquin County. Voters could decide her fate as early as June.
As the top prosecutor, Salazar said she will “bring the hammer” to criminals and educate residents on how to protect themselves from crime.
“If you want to pursue a life of crime then we are going to be very tough on you,” said Salazar in a recent interview. “I believe people deserve to live in their home free of terror and gunshots.”
If elected, Salazar would start her new position in January 2015, filling the seat held by District Attorney James P. Willett, whose second, four-year term runs through the end of the year. As district attorney, Salazar would oversee a staff of nearly 200 employees, including attorneys, investigators, and support staff.
She has been endorsed by Willett, the Stockton and Ripon peace officers’ associations, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, and Stockton City Council members Elbert Holman, Moses Zapian, and Michael Tubbs.
As district attorney, Salazar said she would work to keep neighborhoods safe from violence as well as property theft, graffiti, and vandalism. She would also collaborate with community-based organizations to protect victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, and child endangerment.
Salazar said her main priority would be to make her hometown and surrounding area safer by ridding the streets of gang violence and other violent crimes. As a gang-homicide prosecutor for the county, Salazar knows the impact of crime all too well.
“So many people who have been victims of crime come in traumatized,” she said. “There is so much suffering.”
With most of the homicides in the county being gang-related, the deputy district attorney is well versed in the outcomes of gang activity. Up to 80 percent of the homicides committed in the region are by gang members.
Salazar’s convictions have sent a number of gang members to prison, including members of the notorious LTC gang. Many of the gang homicide cases Salazar has prosecuted involved teenagers, she said.
When a judge hands down a life sentence, Salazar can only think of the mothers sitting in the courtroom – both of the defendant as well as the victim.
“Those mothers standing out there have lost their child,” said Salazar, a mother herself. “One is never coming back, and the other is spending the rest of their lives in prison.”
To help prevent such tragedies and protect the victims who suffer from them, Salazar visits schools and arranges for convicted felons to speak to students to give them a glimpse of what prison is like. But the task of deterring youth from gangs is daunting as the county is plagued by gangs and gang-related violence, particularly in Stockton.
As the county’s district attorney, Salazar said she would continue to reach out to students and educate residents and business owners on what they can do to combat crime, such as forming neighborhood watch groups and pulling their funds together to invest in surveillance equipment and other technology.
“We’re going to do more on the front end to make sure people arm themselves so that they don’t become victims of crime,” Salazar said. “It’s an important role we play in giving people the tools to take back their neighborhood.”
She will also establish a family justice center that helps victims of crime recover from their trauma. The center would serve as a one-stop shop for various services, from counseling to administrative.
At the center, Salazar said, victims would get able to get counseling, file restraining orders over abusive spouses, and get tutoring for their children if they missed school, among other services.
“It’s very tough being a victim of a crime,” Salazar said. “We have to do more.”