Sep 27, 2022 - News

Colorado DAs launch public dashboard to build trust, address disparities

Animated illustration of a cursor pulling on the scales of justice.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

District attorneys across Colorado are taking steps to provide more transparency to the public about how their offices prosecute alleged criminals.

Driving the news: A bipartisan group of eight Colorado district attorneys, including Denver's, unveiled online dashboards this month with case data ranging from defendant demographics and bond decisions to sentencing details and ultimate outcomes.

  • Their efforts mark the largest prosecutorial data project nationwide.

Why it matters: Amid nationwide scrutiny of the criminal justice system and an uptick in violent crime, local district attorneys' offices — historically insular institutions — are shedding light on their inner workings.

  • The stated goal is to address racial and economic disparities and build community trust.

What they found: The dashboards, funded with a nearly $900,000 grant from the Microsoft Justice Reform Institute, are already revealing racial inequities. For example, in most judicial districts, defendants of color were more likely to be held in pretrial detention than white people.

  • In several districts, including Denver, white defendants pleaded guilty to less severe charges than Black and Hispanic defendants.

Zoom in: In Denver, violent crime has spiked since 2020, but data shows criminal cases filed by prosecutors have been stagnant since at least 2017 — a source of controversy between the city's police department and DA's office.

  • As a result, the first two quarters of this year yielded fewer violent crime charges than at any point in the last five years.

What they're saying: Police and prosecutors blame each other for the unabated wave of violence.

  • Denver DA Beth McCann tells Axios she thinks the city's police shortage is preventing a case increase in her office — though she suggested more research is needed.
  • Meanwhile, outgoing police chief Paul Pazen has pointed to "ineffective prosecution" and "ineffective adjudication" for failing to curb Colorado's crime.

What's next: McCann tells Axios Denver the data will be updated and analyzed quarterly. Her team is also working to set up an internal dashboard that can be updated in real-time.

  • That project is funded for another year, after which prosecutors can apply for additional dollars.

The big picture: The "simultaneous release of data dashboards by eight offices in the same state is really quite unique — and makes these offices more transparent than the very large majority of prosecutors’ offices across the country," Don Stemen, chairperson of the criminology department at Loyola University Chicago, told Reuters.

Yes, but: The data remains limited because it is submitted voluntarily, varies in detail between judicial districts and dates back just five years.


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