Some might cringe at the sight of lawyers, but a new initiative through the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to change that.

Some might cringe at the sight of lawyers, but a new initiative through the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to change that.

District Attorney Samuel Sutter said he wants his staff to be seen as mentors for underprivileged children or youth athletic coaches, not as ambulance chasers.

With Sutter leading the way, volunteering his services to Youthbuild New Bedford, the first-year district attorney announced an initiative Thursday that requires everyone on his staff to volunteer 26 hours per year toward a Bristol County cause.

Sutter, flanked by staff members and representatives from a variety of Bristol County social service organizations, recalled that during his 2006 campaign he said the office’s community outreach division could do more with less money. He said Thurday’s announcement was a move to make good on that commitment.

“This will demonstrate to the people of our county that we are dedicated to the idea of trying to prevent crime as well as investigating crime and prosecuting crime — preventing crime by trying to make a difference in individual lives and communities,” Sutter said.

“All of us standing here before you recognize that the primary responsibility of a district attorney’s office is to prosecute the cases given to us by the police, and to investigate homicides, drug trafficking and gun selling. But we also recognize that we have the potential to make a difference in lives and communities through volunteerism. And by doing that, we can change individual lives, and we can also demonstrate to people how deep our concern is for our county.”

In all, 55 members of the district attorney’s staff are providing their services to organizations such as SMILES in New Bedford and Fall River, the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, Bristol Elder Services, the Taunton Boys & Girls Club and 22 other groups.

It is estimated that the effort will produce 1,500 hours of community service to Bristol County, Sutter said, and have more than just a one-year lifespan.

Sutter said the participants will not be compensated for their efforts and said the volunteering will be done during nonwork hours, with the exception of Superior Court staff who base their hours on court appearances.

“All of us that stand before you today are idealistic enough, some might say naïve, to think that we can lead by example and inspire more people to get involved,” Sutter said. “That is an important part of what we stand for here at the District Attorney’s Office.
“In the final analysis, I think most of us agree that the most effective way to improve our communities is to get more people involved in that effort at the grass roots.”

The initiative earned the praise of New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang, who in addition to making a couple of plugs for some New Bedford community service projects, said hopefully more will follow Sutter’s lead.

“These are responsible adults going out and making a difference in our communities,” Lang said. “I hope it catches fire.”

E-mail Will Richmond of The Herald News (Fall River, Mass.) at wrichmond@heraldnews.com.