Voices of County Government – Greg Willis

Collin County District Attorney

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How long have you been district attorney? 

Almost 10 years — since Jan. 1, 2011. 

Before you won election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office? 

I was a county court-at-law judge in 2009 planning to run for a district bench when the DA announced his intention to retire. Having worked as a big firm civil attorney, prosecutor, defense attorney and judge, I had seen up close both the good — and the bad — people in power could do. And nowhere is this truer than with a district attorney. I wanted to fight abuse of power and help people at the same time. 

A recent example of helping people is a first-of-its-kind in Texas, DA-led opioids treatment-and-diversion program. This program utilizes accountability, treatment, counseling and a nonnarcotic that prevents the user from feeling the effects of an ingested opioid. We've trained narcotics detectives countywide, and they refer some of their arrested subjects to the program. This referral power makes their work more meaningful. It also helps users see that cops aren’t their enemy, that cops want drug dealers punished but for users to get help. 

What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office? 

There's no such thing as putting too much intention and energy into creating and maintaining a great office culture. We have a great one because it's a priority every day.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced and what advice would you give your peers across the state who may face similar challenges? 

The biggest challenge I think many DAs face across the nation is the breakdown of trust in the criminal justice system. Peace officers feel unfairly tarnished because of the actions of a few, and people of color feel police do the same to them. Our country is polarized; there’s less dialogue and listening than ever. Yet we need to zoom out and recognize that the overwhelming majority of cops are good, and likewise, the overwhelming majority of people — including those of color — are good, law-abiding citizens. 

The good cops need to feel our support. Earlier this year, my office secured the death penalty against a cop killer. I was personally involved in the case, and even argued part of the closing. It was important to me that our law enforcement community knew I supported them. 

It's equally important that all those we serve in the community understand and experience equal justice under the law.

Since taking office, what accomplishment are you most proud of? 

More than anything, I'm most proud that we are messengers of hope. Victims of crimes want a real hope of justice in their cases. Young, nonviolent offenders want a real hope of erasing their mistake and even coming out better on the other side. Abused kids want a real hope of a safe place and a bright future. Drug addicts want a real hope of a productive, drug-free life. People of color want a real hope of a criminal justice system that's truly fair and equal. Families want a real hope of safe neighborhoods and schools for their children. 

I'm also proud to show that a DA's office can "put away the bad guys" (especially the murderers, rapists and child molesters) while simultaneously providing responsibility-based opportunities to an increasing number of those entering the criminal justice system. And not just an opportunity, but also the skills and tools to make the most of it.

"Burden to Blessing" is our enhanced second-chance pretrial diversion program. Designed for young, nonviolent offenders who choose to take responsibility for their actions and want a better future, this six- to 12-month innovative, affordable probation program includes life and job skills training aimed at redirecting participants toward a path of success.

Dozens of employers participate by hiring program participants and graduates. They found it makes good business sense to hire those who've mastered basic life skills like punctuality, handling adversity and conflict resolution. Meanwhile, successful graduates get their case expunged in addition to gaining the skills and a mindset that enable them to grow stronger and wiser through life’s ups and downs.

What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of Collin County to communicate what your office is doing and why? 

Our Citizens Prosecutor Academy, engaging with the community via our website and social media, occasional press releases, speaking engagements, crime victims luncheons, Tree of Angels ceremonies, and programs like "Cut It Out" that teach hairstylists how to identify signs of domestic violence and refer the victims for help. 

What do you do when you’re not at work? Do you have any hobbies or something unique that you are interested in that may surprise your colleagues? 

I love to be outside in nature, hiking and biking, and sports. I'm a long-suffering Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers fan, a hopeful Dallas Mavs fan, and a die-hard Baylor Bear (Sic 'em!). As for unusual interests, I'm fascinated with the idea of post-traumatic growth and how some people get better partly because of, rather than in spite of, adversity. 

What is your favorite thing about Collin County? 

That it’s a great place to live, raise a family and follow your dreams.