The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California spoke to 10News about the job she has done in helping reduce crime in the area and what she has planned for the future of the region.
With U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in charge since 2010, the crime rate in San Diego and Imperial counties is down to a 30-year low, and the number of felony cases tried in the Southern California federal court system in the last year outnumbered all other California districts combined. Duffy also has 5,000 felonies under her watch.
Duffy has built her reputation on taking down more than a dozen members of one of Mexico's biggest criminal organizations, the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
"Some of the most violent, murderous individuals that's been seen in this region in the world," Duffy told 10News.
Duffy added, "My personal commitment is taking care of the remainder of the Arellano-Felix members who are out there ... and any individuals who step in line to take their place."
Duffy's journey to the region's top law enforcement post has been a strange one. She attended Iowa State University as a fashion and textile major, but she said she was bitten by the criminal law bug during her time in a Nebraska public defender's office while attending Creighton University School of Law.
"I knew what I wanted to do from that point in time ... litigator involved in criminal law. I knew my passion and background were not a great fit for criminal defense, and I was going to go into prosecution," said Duffy.
Duffy admitted her high-profile prosecutions did get her "team" noticed by people in high places, but she believes it was something else that made President Obama appoint her as the Southern District U.S. Attorney.
"President Obama saw the relationships that I was able to build and foster in that case across the border," said Duffy.
As U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Duffy's turf stretches 141 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border from Imperial County to the Pacific.
She said national security is her No. 1 priority, without question.
"Any known terrorist organization is constantly being monitored," said Duffy.
Duffy told 10News her office also monitors materials used to make bombs and tunnels to breach the border.
"The threat is there and there are no shortage of individuals and organizations who wish to do harm," said Duffy.
She said a disturbing trend has emerged, as organized crime south of the border taps into an army of thugs to the north.
"They are making use of these street gangs, especially as the law enforcement heat intensifies on the cartel leadership," Duffy said.
Duffy also has her hands full with financial crimes and the business of sex trafficking. She recently broke up a major operation in which Oceanside gang members were pimping dozens of underage girls.
"The exploitation of juvenile girls especially, and human trafficking in all its forms is one of our major priorities," she said.
Duffy said the key to breaking up criminal activity is the cooperation of all agencies, from the feds to the local level.
"We have been able to interrupt plots to assassinate people," said Duffy, who would not reveal who the targets were.
However, with the heat on criminals, law enforcement itself has become a target. Violent attacks against officers in 2010 surpassed the total number from the last two decades.
"Very real problem ... must be solved because we can't fight the worst of the worst without them," said Duffy.
It is another challenge in a myriad of complex issues for Duffy's office, as she takes on both violent and white-collar crimes in the Southwest every day.
Duffy said the mission of her office is to make the justice system something everyone has "faith in" and "access to."
She initiated an outreach program that includes cultural information for the Somali community to give them an understanding of Western culture. The program aims to reach immigrants before they become radicalized.
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