San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has launched a website with the goal of transparency. On this website is a veritable treasure trove of data relating to all cases prosecuted by Gascón’s office since 2011. It aggregates information relating to types of cases, number of cases, and how many cases were won by the prosecutors. It even presents them in a way that the layman will easily digest using charts and graphs.
This was done to guarantee the accountability of his own staff while also providing the public with a vision of the criminal justice system they typically never see.
Gascón seemed bewildered that this information was not already publicly available when he began to work at the office, because the lack thereof meant that performance could not be easily or accurately tracked over a long period of time.
He had this to say of the old system: “It was very obvious to me that here we have a multimillion-dollar public law firm using government and taxpayer resources without really understanding where the money was being invested.”
One might wonder why the new system was only being implemented now, when he is planning to step down as San Francisco District Attorney at the end of the year.
Apparently the website took a whopping five years to put into place, but now the office assures us that it will be updated at least once a month to include statistics like number of arrests, prosecutions carried out, and the types of crimes being prosecuted. It will provide conviction rates and a showing of how long trials typically last. All this information will be spread out across three separate dashboards.
Interestingly, information about race, gender, age, and other demographic data relating to those who are arrested is not yet available. In addition, the website does not include information on cases that do not move forward to trial (which means the lion’s share of data is still missing). Most cases result in plea deals, while others are dismissed entirely.
Although it will take the public a long time to sift through the available information, there are a few tidbits that stick out immediately: the prosecution of drug crimes has plummeted from 2011 to 2018, down to 18 percent from 52 percent. Instead, more cases stemming from violent crime are moving forward to court. These include crimes such as assault.
In fact, this is in part due to a statewide initiative co-authored by Gascón in 2014, which reduced the severity of some drug crimes to misdemeanors.