Worthy tells county residents what the prosecutor's office is really like

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, right, chats with attendees of a town hall meeting held at the Northville Township Hall on Thursday.

Northville Township — Despite the numerous charges her office authorizes and high-profile crimes Wayne County investigates every year, Prosecutor Kym Worthy notes how few county residents understand the effort involved to help their safety.

Between television shows and online information, “there really is nothing that accurately depicts how a large urban prosecutor’s office works,” she told a town hall audience Thursday night at the Northville Township Hall.

Worthy explained her staff handles “significantly more cases than any other prosecutor’s office in Michigan” — including an estimated 41 percent of all felony trials in the state, and roughly more than six times the amount of any other county.

“We do anywhere between 18,000 and 22,000 felony cases a year,” she said.

The sizable caseload can also necessitate multiple divisions to probe specific cases, including homicides and child abuse, Worthy told the dozens of attendees.

Detailing those operations and how it impacts those living in Michigan’s most populous county was the focus of the meeting led by Worthy. It was the first of several forums the former judge has planned to better explain what happens at the office she has overseen since 2004.

Worthy mentioned a newly formed Business Protection Unit, which tackles crimes at stores and other establishments.

The work is critical, the prosecutor noted. Some businesses in Detroit have closed, she said, after thefts resulted in losing thousands of dollars in merchandise, Worthy said.

“We want our businesses to thrive in Wayne County,” she said.

Some of the presentation revolved around ongoing efforts to handle a rape kit backlog.

Worthy has gained much attention for her office’s work to process 11,341 found in an abandoned Detroit police facility nearly a decade ago. The kits collected between 1984 and 2009 were never submitted for DNA testing, her office said.

In March, officials reported some 600 kits remained from a batch. 

As a result of the processing the previous ones, Worthy said, more than 830 serial sex offenders had been identified. The tests have also helped connect offenders to crimes in as many as 40 other states.

“It’s a very useful tool,” said Worthy, adding legislation has been introduced in recent years to help ensure rape kits are properly processed and on a timely basis.

After unveiling graphs illustrating how different criminal cases move through the court system, the longtime prosecutor described hot-button issues: including body camera footage, rising domestic violence cases, and school threats.

Since the Parkland, Florida, high school mass shooting in February, scores of threats have been reported in districts across the county, she recalled.

Worthy noted that even if youths do not intend to follow through on attacks, students can still be charged with crimes, such as false threat of terrorism, a felony that can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

“We take these very seriously,” she said.

Residents of this community, Northville Township, Plymouth, Plymouth Township, Canton Township, Livonia and Redford Township were invited to the event to hear how the prosecutor’s office handles these situations and others, such as domestic violence, law enforcement body cameras and major crimes.

“We’re really excited that we’re able to do this,” said Northville Township Supervisor Robert Nix, who attended along with the local board of trustees.

The event was informative for Kate Shishkovsky of Livonia, who learned more than she ever had about Worthy's work and how crime victims are helped.

"I liked the fact she gave a quick and comprehensive overview," Shishkovsky said. "This was the first time I've seen her (in person) and was impressed."