San Francisco DA's Office Whips Up Its Own Sunlight, Releases Data Sets On Arrests And Convictions

from the make-it-trend dept

A horrifically stupid and likely-illegal raid of a journalist’s house notwithstanding, San Francisco’s move towards greater law enforcement accountability and transparency has been monumental. Granted, this increase’s momentousness is relative. Most cities do nothing at all to increase law enforcement accountability and transparency, so any forward momentum becomes noteworthy for even exisiting.

San Francisco recently became the first city in the nation to ban use of facial recognition tech by local government agencies. The tech’s problematic history and freedom-threatening growing pains should have produced similar bans elsewhere in the country, but so far, it’s only San Francisco. The fact that it did it before law enforcement even started using it deserves to be applauded. Legislators are rarely ahead of the tech adoption curve… if they’re even being informed at all about local law enforcement’s new tech toys by the agencies they’re supposed to be overseeing.

The DA’s office — the same one that issued pretty harsh words about the SFPD’s raid of journalist Bryan Carmody’s home — has released a first-of-its-kind transparency tool to keep the public apprised about arrests and convictions. This open-access recordkeeping is a significant improvement over the DA’s office former record keeping process, which was apparently nonexistent.

When District Attorney George Gascon first took office he was “shocked” to discover that his staff could often not answer even basic questions about caseloads or prosecution and conviction rates.

“You’d ask people around the office how many cases we have…and depending on the day of the week and who you’d ask, you would get significantly different answers,” said Gascon. “The reality is that people would keep their own Excel sheets. Some were actually in handwriting.”

The discovery prompted the launch of “DA Stat,” a transparency initiative announced Wednesday that is intended to create greater transparency by aggregating nearly a decade’s worth of data into three new statistical dashboards that are updated on a monthly basis.

As DA Gascon points out, taxpayers spend millions funding his office, but have no idea whether that investment was paying off. The stats included here will at least assure taxpayers new laws are working the way they’re supposed to. For example, a 2014 measure reduced personal drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. This has resulted in a 33% decline in felony drug prosecutions.

It also shows that, for better or worse, the DA’s office is pretty good at what it does.

In 2018, the DA’s overall trial conviction rate was 83 percent, while trials averaged 11 days in length for a total of 266 defendants.

What isn’t factored into that 83% success rate is how many of those convictions were the result of plea deals. Without this number, it’s tough to tell whether the office is loaded with prosecutors that only bring solid cases, or a bunch of canny salespeople able to talk defendants into giving up rather than exercising their right to a fair trial.

The good news is that factor won’t be ignored. The DA’s office plans to add plea numbers as soon as it can obtain reliable data from the court system, which seems not nearly as interested in participating in the new transparency.

There’s a lot of data here for the public to review and make use of. The DA’s office is also working with the DataSF program and hopes to publish its data sets in full by the end of 2019. Until then, members of the public can examine what’s been released and judge for itself whether the office is earning its keep. And that puts them miles ahead of residents of almost every other city in the United States.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “San Francisco DA's Office Whips Up Its Own Sunlight, Releases Data Sets On Arrests And Convictions”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
13 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Statistics tell the story the compiler wants to tell

The statistic I would like to see is how many times each and every law on the books has been enforced since codification (an arrest made), and how many times that arrest was actually prosecuted, and then the win/lose record of those prosecutions. Recidivism of the same offence by the same offender might be nice as well, and as Tim points out, how many went to trial and how many were plea bargained. (I’ll leave statistics on the nature and form of the plea bargains for another time). Oh, another good one, how many cases (and which laws) were reversed at the appellate level, and how many years later were they reversed?

I suspect we will find that many laws are never enforced as there was never a need for the law, and that many of those arrested for some offence are never prosecuted, and that the success rate for the prosecution of some of the laws was significantly less than 100% (the reasons for those failures would be yet another interesting study).

Data mining isn’t just for your telecom provider, social media addictions, or Google, but can be fun for all.

MathFox says:

Re: Statistics tell the story the compiler wants to tell

You mention some interesting statistics to add, but you ask for some numbers that the DA office does not have. The PD should know the number of arrests (and how many cases were dropped); the DA only gets involved when investigation changes to prosecution. Anyway, it would be interesting yo know how many investigations were closed by the DA without starting prosecution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Statistics tell the story the compiler wants to tell

I suspect we will find that many laws are never enforced as there was never a need for the law..

You can never have too many laws on the books. Make it so there is always something that could be used against almost anyone and then use "selective enforcement". That’s how you keep the people in line while still proclaiming liberty.

MathFox says:

Re: Re: Statistics tell the story the compiler wants to tell

Isn’t that how math in general works? People can make numbers say whatever they want.

If you do statistics correctly, you’ll get results that are hard to refute. It is possible to cherry-pick results and ignore the numbers that you don’t like. (Putting your head in the sand.)

A more subtle way of improving numbers is manipulating the raw registrations that form the basis for the statistical computations; like ordering the police to stop registering arrest when the suspect is let free before the night. Or one could add incentives to better results and have people change their behavior (cook the books.) 😉

btr1701 (profile) says:

For example, a 2014 measure reduced personal drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. This has resulted in a 33% decline in felony drug prosecutions…

…and directly resulted in normal taxpaying citizens having to jump over vagrants injecting heroin in the hallways of the BART stations and hopscotch through pools of vomit and urine as they commute to and from their jobs every day.

Oh, and don’t forget the cholera and hepatitis! San Francisco: Come for the cable cars, stay for the 3rd World diseases.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…and directly resulted in normal taxpaying citizens having to jump over vagrants injecting heroin in the hallways of the BART stations and hopscotch through pools of vomit and urine as they commute to and from their jobs every day.

Alcohol has directly resulted in "normal" taxpaying citizens having to jump over vagrants drinking alcohol in the hallways of the BART stations and hopscotch through pools of vomit and urine as they commute to and from their jobs every day. We should do something to stop the drinking of alcohol. Make possession of alcohol a felony even for person use. Yeah, that’s the ticket. We could call it something relevant, like "prohibition". Think of all the crime we could eliminate!

Oh, and don’t forget the cholera and hepatitis! San Francisco: Come for the cable cars, stay for the 3rd World diseases.

And all the STD’s transmitted during drunken sex!

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

We should do something to stop the drinking of alcohol.

Yes, we should, or more specifically, stop the drinking of it in commuter train stations.

Make possession of alcohol a felony even for person use.

No, you make possession and consumption of it in a BART station or on the public sidewalks a crime. Oh, wait… it already is. But it’s only enforced against normal taxpaying citizens. The San Francisco cops will write a normal taxpaying citizen a fine for open container violation while a vagrant lies on the sidewalk 10 feet away and injects heroin without consequence.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: (claimed causation)

San Francisco, along with other big cities, has a homeless population and sod all is being done to actually house them. I fall over homeless people all the time. Now one of the many things done to "discourage" them is to ban them from using the restrooms in pubs, etc. Result: phone boxes used as toilets.

Until the powers that be decide that actually housing people is the best solution to homelessness (it’s actually cheaper!), this will continue. They don’t have to be fancy — student-style shared accommodation will do for single people.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: (claimed causation)

They don’t have to be fancy — student-style shared accommodation will do for single people.

A cot and a blanket and a row of porta-potties in a warehouse is more than sufficient.

The thing is, most of the people who want such services can and do already get them. However, the hardcore vagrants refuse to be housed because housing comes with rules against drug use, alcohol use, and various sexual behaviors, and they don’t want to have to obey those rules when they can stay on the street, continue to smoke their meth or whatever, and be coddled by California politicians who refuse to make them obey the same laws as everyone else.

When Orange County cleared out the thousands of people in the massive encampment in the Santa Ana riverbed last year**, they offered housing and services to everyone they were kicking out, as required by the court, and only 10% accepted. When 90% of the vagrants are refusing your services, then it’s wildly inaccurate to say "providing housing is the answer to the problem".

**This was one of the rare occasions when a California government body actually cleaned up a vagrant encampment and forced them to leave. But not because the citizens of the community who pay the taxes to run the place demanded it. No, the county ignored them for as long as possible. It was the federal government that told them they had to clean out the bums because they were camped in a riverbed, which meant all their trash, medical waste, and feces were in a tributary that feeds into the ocean and it violated federal environmental laws. Faced with massive fines from the federal government for continued inaction, the county was actually forced to do what their constituents had been demanding they do for years.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...