New D.A. to Zero In on Those Most at Risk

Risa Vetri Ferman, Montgomery County's new district attorney, hopes to make an immediate impact in her new position by focusing on some of the youngest and oldest victims of crime.

Shortly before taking office, Ferman announced plans to convert an 18th-century Norristown farmhouse into the Mission Kids Center, a child's advocacy and treatment facility that will have its own board of directors, but will receive logistical support from the district attorney's office and address the needs of those who've been abused or neglected.

Ferman — who has worked at the district attorney's office since graduating from Widener University School of Law in 1993 — said that, based on her experience as head of the office's sex-crimes unit, abused children are often victimized a second time by being forced to withstand the tedious and arduous criminal-justice process. Creating a central location where a child can give a police statement, and meet with social workers as well as doctors, will make the process a little easier for the child, she explained.

"We don't want to allow the system to further damage or traumatize a child," added Ferman. A new approach will better serve both the child and the system, she said, noting that the center is expected to open in 2009.

As part of her own office, the member of Beth Shalom Congregation in Elkins Park also announced the creation of an Elder Abuse Unit. That office will work to prosecute the rising instances of financial crime and identity theft perpetrated against older individuals throughout the county.

The unit will have its own detective and will be connected to a task force in an effort to mobilize community resources to prevent crimes against the elderly.

While violent crime hasn't been nearly the issue in Montgomery County that it's been in neighboring Philadelphia County, Ferman said there is always concern that it could "spill over."

"Crime is a regional issue," said Ferman, who pointed out that she plans to work with her counterparts in Philadelphia and surrounding areas to focus on crime prevention. "What drew me to this line of work is the value I personally find in the work — protecting victims of crime."

She said that it's a testament to the county's law enforcement that in a year in which Philadelphia's homicide total edged toward 400, Montgomery had less than 10 murders.

She added that while raw violent crime numbers have gone up over the past decades, that's partially because the population has increased as well. In fact, she said per-capita crime has decreased.

The mother of three kids who attend the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School insisted that her life won't be getting more hectic with the new job. If anything, the pace might be a little slower than in her old position as assistant district attorney. That job, she said, was as close to 24/7 as you could get.

The Republican also noted that she's glad to put the campaign behind her, and looks forward to concentrating on running the office, rather than being involved in partisan politics.

But she didn't rule out the possibility that, come fall and the runup to Election Day fervor, she might be stumping for the GOP's presidential nominee or other pols seeking legislative seats in Harrisburg or Washington.

In what spare time she does have, does the career prosecutor ever watch episodes of "Law & Order"? Not often, but she did say the show accurately depicts "the conflicts that prosecutors and police are often faced with. It shows they don't always work the way we would like them."

She's less enamored with the "CSI" shows because they give the impression that technology and forensics can perform miracles on a regular basis. As a prosecutor, she finds that kind of TV fantasy "very frustrating." 



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