For the first time in Philadelphia, you can monitor arrest and prosecution numbers in real time, thanks to a new public dashboard set up by the office of District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Nationwide, criminal justice data is notoriously difficult to obtain. Some agencies actually prefer it that way — to avoid public scrutiny, Krasner claimed as he unveiled the new tool on Thursday.
“Chief prosecutors offices have been black boxes,” he said. “They didn’t want you to know what was going on, because some of the time, it was going to be embarrassing.”
Krasner, who was elected in 2017 on a pledge to curb mass incarceration, said he wants the data to show his office “what we’re doing well and what we’re doing poorly” when it comes to crime trends and prosecutions.
The information is separated by category and can be compared and contrasted for analysis: incidents, arrests, charges, bail, case outcomes and case length — i.e. how long it took from the charges filed to final court ruling.
The dashboard also has a tracker totalling the number of years in incarceration, which Krasner said would serve as an indicator of the long-distance reform efforts. A separate tracker counts “years of supervision” for probation and parole sentences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both incarceration and supervision are down significantly under Krasner. For many crimes, like drug offenses, his office has boosted diversionary programs as an alternative to incarceration.
There’s plenty of data nerd stuff to poke around on the dashboard, as well as easy-to-read instructions on how to navigate the data for the average viewer.
Want to see which criminal charges are shifting under the reformist DA? Go to data.philadao.com. Click around until you find the report for criminal charges, and crunch away. Homicides prosecutions are up 16% under Krasner, compared to the previous administration, but charges for all violent crime categories are down almost 14% in that same timeframe.
The data will be updated daily, according to Krasner’s office.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Hollander added a caveat that the office is relying on data from various sources, including law enforcement agencies which measure things their own way. That’s only to say there’s room for error.
“The data that we have is not perfect,” Hollander said. “The people who enter the data are not perfect.”
Law enforcement is the U.S. is an extremely localized operation, according to Amy Bach, the director of a Measures for Justice, a nonprofit that seeks to improve data collection within the criminal justice system. The nation has over 3,000 counties, many of them with their own law enforcement agencies that tracks proceedings in non-uniform ways.
While statistics on actual crime are commonplace, data on outcomes in the criminal justice system is hard to come by. Bach wrote in the New York Times last year that data collection is beginning to improve in some states and cities.
Krasner’s office is encouraging the public to explore the data and provide his office with feedback. Datasets can also be downloaded for individual police districts, if you’re interested in tracking crimes in your neighborhood.
Said Oren Gur the director of research at the District Attorney’s Office: “Download it, explore it, write about it, and let us know what [you] think and find.”