HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla — The Hillsborough County State Attorneys' office just launched an online tool with the hope of building trust through transparency. It allows you to see how fairly the criminal justice system is working for you.
“Especially now at a time where public trust in the criminal justice system is at a relative low, we’re showing that we are willing to open our kimono, reveal everything we have to be transparent with the community,” said Andrew Warren, the State Attorney for Hillsborough County.
It’s the first of its kind in the state of Florida, with Jacksonville expected to release a similar dashboard later this month.
The site launched Thursday Morning and took two years to complete. It was a joint effort between 4 state attorneys office across the nation and criminologists from Florida International University and Loyola University in Chicago.
It compares data year to year, and month to month. You can track all kinds of statistics as they relate to the justice system like how likely it is the State Attorney’s office will pursue your case based on your race.
In December of last year, the state attorneys office was more likely to dismiss a black person's case by 5.8% compared to the overall average. In October it was nearly double that at 10.7%. But in May of 2019, it was 1.6%.
“We’ve learned a lot, it’s identified things that we’re doing really well and it’s identified some areas where we need improvement,” said Warren. “We can’t fix what we can’t see. So identifying problematic areas is the first step to finding those solutions.”
But there are bright spots Warren is proud of. For instance, nearly 5,000 young people were arrested in 2017 compared to about 3,500 in 2019. Fewer kids are being charged as adults than they were 4-years-ago thanks to diversion programs and civil citations. Plus, fewer people are being criminally charged for driving on a suspended license which Warren says keeps them out of poverty traps.
“A lot of the data doesn’t tell us exactly what the problem as much as it starts to probe questions,” he said. “Why is something working in a particular way? And so we need to start asking those questions to find the underlying causes.”
Warren hopes the information can arm the public with the knowledge they need to make changes too.
“This data allows outside groups to focus on what’s important to them and then engage in a more productive dialogue with our office about where we’re falling short and where we can do better,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are continuing to minimize racial disparities both in terms of victims and defendants and how those cases are treated as it went through the system.”