The power of data in deploying criminal justice resources
(Photo Credit RCoe/Flickr)
Data and statistics are helping the Riverside County District Attorney’s office run more efficiently, ensuring that the department is properly resourced and is using tax dollars wisely, which is important to a county facing budget issues.
The data are tracked at the monthly Executive Management Report (EMR) meetings, the brainchild of District Attorney Michael Hestrin. “When I was the new DA, all the different parts of the office were siloed and they were each coming to me independently saying, ‘We need attorneys, investigators and support staff here.’”
Hestrin, who was recently elected to a second term, wanted to see if the numbers supported the requests for resources.
He added, “Everybody was frustrated because they didn’t have enough resources, but now we all sit in room together where we listen to each other’s reports and evaluate standardized metrics across every division in every region of the county. So now when a manager says, ‘Gosh, I need resources,’ they can see from the numbers if another division needs it more."
The daylong meeting, which is open to everyone in the office, is held in a large conference room with regional offices on video conferencing.
"It’s a transparent process that promotes fairness, innovative problem-solving and collaborative leadership that is focused on the greater good,” said Hestrin.
Each region and prosecution unit as well as Victim Services, the Bureau of Investigations and administration are represented and make presentations to the entire team. The presentations include standardized metrics such as the number of cases, number of trials and outcomes, caseload stats for each attorney and rolling monthly stats for month-to-month comparisons and year-to-year trending.
Each team also shares information such as public outreach activities, relevant news about the unit and, most importantly, resources that are needed or could be shared. Future risks and mitigations are also analyzed.
During the meeting, the members of the Executive Management Team are listening, asking questions, taking notes, sending emails and setting strategic follow-up meetings based on the information being provided. The team works in real time to solve some of the issues and problems as they are being presented.
Before the EMR meetings were instituted, reports were created but not efficiently, as Chief Deputy District Attorney Vince Fabrizio recently described. “What you had were just a compilation of non-standardized written reports where each line manager wrote up what was going on with their unit, they’d send it up to their chief who would throw a piece of paper with their summaries on top of it before moving it on to their ADA (Assistant District Attorney) for the same thing, then it would come up to the DA, I’m still not sure to this day if anyone really read any of those.”
Added Assistant District Attorney Elaina Bentley, “Not only were the reports onerous to read, but because our reporting metrics and definitions were regionalized, the information was often anecdotal and left us comparing apples to oranges when trying to allocate scarce resources.”
“Coming to this meeting, you see how everyone is counting those statistics and you realize the need to standardize,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelli Catlett. “I deploy all of the resources in county-wide misdemeanors based on the statistics. I constantly redistribute and rebalance to keep everything together and that wasn’t happening before.”
The EMR meetings also include a presentation from the department’s budget office, which, according to Hestrin, changed the way many on the team thought about resources. “Here you had lawyers who have come up through operations where they’ve always just done court work. For the first time, they’re getting introduced to how the budget works. That’s made all of them think, ‘I’ve got to save money — it’s not just the DA’s problem or the admin’s problem, but can I do with one less person here to help with the deficit.’ So I’ve seen a lot of that too and that’s different from when I first started.”
Using data is also helping the DA’s office see trends and patterns. “If I notice something in a particular region, I can look and say, ‘What’s happening here?’” said Catlett. For example, she recently noticed an uptick in active misdemeanor cases countrywide despite no increase in her misdemeanor criminal filings. This led to a collaboration with criminal justice partners where it was discovered that the courts and the DA were not only defining active cases differently, but the increase was largely attributable to the misdemeanants who failed to appear in court. They are now working with the defense bar, the police agencies and the courts to address this problem.
The DA’s office is actively working with other county departments within the criminal justice system to realize greater efficiencies. Said Bentley, “When Mr. Hestrin assumed office, he wanted to ensure our budgetary and managerial decisions were data-driven. So we deployed a new case management system and initiated other efficiency measures, including e-filing with the court and a system to allow law enforcement agencies to submit their reports and case submissions to the DA’s office electronically.”
The DA’s office used asset forfeiture money (ill-gotten gains of drug dealers) and purchased these systems and equipment. She added, “These upgrades are reducing redundant data entry and paper usage, saving staff time and improving communications across multiple public safety agencies. It’s a collaborative effort, that’s the beauty that I’ve come to realize.”
The EMR meetings are a good example of how data can be used to make evidenced-based decisions at all levels of a department as well as promote cross-system collaboration. “It’s not only about accountability,” said Catlett, “It’s about deploying limited county resources in the best way possible to get the job done and serve the community.”
Fabrizio agreed, “We now know that when we’re making those arguments, we truly are doing it in the best possible way we can do it.”