from the its-who-you-know-and-what-you-know dept.
The NYT reports that NY County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s most significant initiative has been to transform, through the use of data, the way district attorneys fight crime. “The question I had when I came in was, Do we sit on our hands waiting for crime to tick up, or can we do something to drive crime lower?” says Vance. “I wanted to develop what I call intelligence-driven prosecution.” When Vance became DA in 2009, it was glaringly evident that assistant D.A.s fielding the 105,000-plus cases a year in Manhattan seldom had enough information to make nuanced decisions about bail, charges, pleas or sentences. They were narrowly focused on the facts of cases in front of them, not on the people committing the crimes. They couldn’t quickly sort minor delinquents from irredeemably bad apples. They didn’t know what havoc defendants might be wreaking in other boroughs.
Vance divided Manhattan’s 22 police precincts into five areas and assigned a senior assistant D.A. and an analyst to map the crime in each area. CSU staff members met with patrol officers, detectives and Police Department field intelligence officers and asked police commanders to submit a list of each precinct’s 25 worst offenders — so-called crime drivers, whose “incapacitation by the criminal-justice system would have a positive impact on the community’s safety.” Seeded with these initial cases, the CSU built a searchable database that now includes more than 9,000 chronic offenders (PDF), virtually all of whom have criminal records. A large percentage are recidivists who have been repeatedly convicted of grand larceny, one of the top index crimes in Manhattan, but the list also includes active gang members, people whom the D.A. considers “uncooperative witnesses,” and a fluctuating number of violent “priority targets,” which currently stands at 81. “These are people we want to know about if they are arrested,” says Kerry Chicon. “We are constantly adding, deleting, editing and updating the intelligence in the Arrest Alert System. If someone gets out of a gang, or goes to prison for a long time, or moves out of the city or the state, or ages out of being a focus for us, or dies, we edit the system accordingly — we do that all the time.”
“It’s the ‘Moneyball’ approach to crime,” says Chauncey Parker. “The tool is data; the benefit, public safety and justice — whom are we going to put in jail? If you have 10 guys dealing drugs, which one do you focus on? The assistant district attorneys know the rap sheets, they have the police statements like before, but now they know if you lift the left sleeve you’ll find a gang tattoo and if you look you’ll see a scar where the defendant was once shot in the ankle. Some of the defendants are often surprised we know so much about them.”