State Attorney’s Office reveals new data dashboard in push to increase transparency

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

The State Attorney’s Office revealed a new data dashboard on Tuesday.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson tells Action News Jax the dashboard’s release is an effort to improve transparency and community trust and to bring a more data-driven approach to prosecution.

“A lot of data, in a way that is presented on a dashboard that we’ve committed to maintaining on a quarterly basis, different metrics, a variety of different metrics that have to do with our work with the criminal justice system,” said Nelson.

Michael Sampson, an activist with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, spoke to Action News Jax on Tuesday about the release of the dashboard.

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Sampson spent months in 2020 organizing demonstrations and demanding increased transparency and accountability for police and prosecutors in Jacksonville.

“2020′s been a hell of a year for all parties involved,” said Sampson. “I think it’s been a transformational year in demanding transparency from the state attorney as well as the sheriff … I think you saw a huge mandate from the people of Jacksonville in regards to them wanting to see more transparency,” said Sampson.

Nelson says the dashboard was developed in partnership with researchers at Florida International University and Loyola University of Chicago, who spent years working with prosecutors in Jacksonville, Tampa, Chicago and Milwaukee.

“Improving transparency and trust in the prosecutor’s office were goals we set when we began this work,” said Nelson. “This data dashboard is a major step toward that commitment and helps us become better prosecutors and better stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

The dashboard includes dozens of Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, or PPIs.

“Indicators fall under categories of Capacity and Efficiency, Community Safety and Well-Being, and Fairness and Justice. Additional indicators will be added in the coming months,” Nelson’s office said in a news release on Tuesday.

“You can view the Fourth Circuit State Attorney’s data dashboard at sao4thdatadashboard.com. The John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge funded the project and the work of researchers who established the PPI initiative …”

The news release says researchers at FIU have worked with the office, communicated with prosecutors, and reviewed hundreds of thousands of case files to build the public data sets.

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“The criminal justice system cannot be reformed without marked progress in the field of prosecution. We also recognize that prosecutors need to be equipped with data and analytics to understand their impact on the communities they serve,” said FIU Associate Professor Besiki Kutateladze, who led the PPI project.

“After several years of partnership, we are thrilled to help launch Florida’s first prosecutorial dashboards to bring greater transparency and promote data-driven decisions in prosecution.”

Action News Jax asked Nelson whether an analysis of the data revealed any key findings of how her office is functioning.

“The biggest takeaway really has been learning how to read this, how to look at trends,” said Nelson. " … There hasn’t been anything that was alarming to us. It’s really, I think, been interesting to go through the process, and see our lawyers using this in a way, in their own divisions, that’s constructive to their work.”

Meanwhile, Nelson tells Action News Jax her office now has the analytical infrastructure necessary to track prosecutorial trends into the future.

“A main success of this endeavor has been just that,” said Nelson.

“We’ve built now — internally in our office — the analytical capacity. We have two data analysts — who we’ve hired as a result of the funding from the MacArthur Foundation — who now can assist us in capturing this data, and then reporting it out. Analyzing it and reporting it out. That’s actually an indicator that we’re reporting to the public on.”

Nelson says her office started with one data analyst position, and they now have four.

“So, we have a unit of folks who can assist us with this,” said Nelson. “And they’re going to be able to be nimble and responsive.”

Sampson feels the dashboard is a step in the right direction but feels law enforcement officers in Jacksonville are not being held accountable.

“One of the reasons we push for transparency is to get accountability, and increased transparency without accountability isn’t really justice at all,” said Sampson.

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While the State Attorney’s Office presently has a system for releasing information on police involved shootings, Nelson says in the future the new dashboard is expected to include an indicator for those cases as well.

She tells Action News Jax her office is welcoming feedback from the public on how the dashboard can be improved.