Now in his 20th year of serving the people of Queens, District Attorney Richard A. Brown has the distinction as the longest running D.A. in the history of Queens County. At the age of 79, Brown continues his war on crime and is now at an age that once in awhile he can look back on his 50 years of public service and smile. He knows that he was a big part in the dramatic reduction of crime in New York City since he started back in 1991. His biggest problem then was handling a huge amount of cases and investigations in an office that was yet to catch up to the computer age. The painfully slow project of eliminating typewriters while educating and training his staff to use computers paid off with a dramatic increase in the office productivity and a dramatic reduction in crime.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Brown received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hobart College in 1953, graduated from New York University School of Law in 1956 and was admitted to the Bar by the Appellate Division in October 1956.
After serving in various roles in state government, in 1973 Brown was appointed as a judge in the criminal court and two years later became supervising judge of the Brooklyn criminal court. In January 1976, Judge Brown was designated as an Acting Justice of the NYS Supreme Court. And in November 1977, Judge Brown was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court in Queens County.
On June 1, 1991, Judge Brown left the Appellate Division to accept Governor Mario Cuomo’s appointment as the District Attorney of Queens County.
Judge Brown is most proud of the fact that he trains young attorneys so well that most of them stay instead of leaving for private practice. More than 50% of his assistants stay at least 10 years in the Queens District Attorney’s office, by far the highest in the five boroughs. He says the secret is running a tight knit office with the theme of professionalism and mutual respect. Jack Ryan, Brown’s Chief Assistant, is a testament to that longevity, having stayed with Brown for almost 20 years. Ryan was the chief assistant on the Tawana Brawley case, and is the go-to man in Brown’s office.
A Model for the City and Nation
Since Brown took over as District Attorney, homicides have dropped more than 70% in Queens since 1992. But the direct proof about how effective the Queens DA office is in the conviction rate. His office has a 63% conviction rate, by far the highest in the City of New York. Staten Island is distant second with a 44% conviction rate. Brown’s office also has more pre-indictment felony pleas than the rest of the city combined; an impressive figure that helps speed up the court system. Brown’s office also is the fastest of all DA’s in case processing with 82% of cases arraigned within 24 hours compared to only 62% for the rest of New York City.
District Attorney Richard Brown has also stepped up investigations and is recognized as a national leader in court authorized electronic surveillance. In fact Queens County has the largest number of wiretaps in the entire country last year (249), exceeding Los Angeles County (197), whose DA’s office has about five times the staff. Queens County’s wiretaps represented nearly 15% of the national total.
The Queens DA’s office is also a leader in the use of DNA to solve violent crime. Brown’s policy of taking DNA samples from low level criminals has yielded remarkable benefits. Over 45% of DNA matches in 2010 for violent crime were a result of DNA taken from defendants convicted earlier of a low-level crime. Tracking down criminals is also an area where the Queens DA has a remarkable record. While the rest of the city bagged a total of 375 bail jumpers, Queens alone almost matched that with 314. Queens also leads in gun convictions in New York City.
Budget Cuts Hurt
Like every city agency or office, the Queens DA has been hit hard by budget cuts and that threatens Brown’s ability to do comprehensive long-term investigations. “Budget cuts have a devastating affect on our ability to fight crime… that’s probably the most frustrating part of this job,” said Brown.
Given Judge Brown’s track record as a national leader in the war on crime, the last thing the City of New York should want to do is cut that ability to put violent criminals away.
The Queens DA’s office under Richard Brown is an urban model and the proof is in the statistics and track record of the office. District Attorney Richard Brown has done a remarkable job helping to make Queens County the safest borough in New York City.
And finally on the subject of longevity Brown jokes, “These past 20 years have gone by much too quickly – I still however have a few years left before I break Bob Morgenthau’s record of years in office. My goal is to serve for at least as long as Bob served as Manhattan DA. That means I have 15 more years to go.”