Data Dashboard allows public to dig deeply into prosecutor's statistics

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman Thursday demonstrated for the county board a new statistical dashboard that is likely the most revealing of any prosecutor’s office in the country.

“The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has made it a priority to build strong data practices systems to promote transparency and to help guide thoughtful decision making in the daily operations of the office,” Freeman said. “Anybody can go to our website and look at the data without having to make a special request.”

Dashboard data is updated every night, so the information is never more than 24 hours old, reflecting the most recent status of cases. The years shown on the dashboard are 2014 through 2018 and as each year ends, such as 2019, its data will be added to the dashboard.

Since 2014, the number of charged cases in serious adult crimes, property and drug crimes have increased by approximately 1,300 cases. Those increases have been driven by gun cases, domestic violence and drug cases.

Juvenile cases have gone in the other direction, showing a decline of nearly 1,200 charged cases since 2014. While felony juvenile offenses have stayed relatively constant over those five years, petty and misdemeanor offenses have been cut almost in half.

Much of that decrease is the result of an aggressive diversion program. From 2014 to 2017, the number of cases diverted nearly doubled and when the final numbers are in for 2018, the upward trend is expected to continue.

The dashboard also allows anyone to track racial disparities. According to census numbers, the Hennepin County population is approximately 69 percent white, 13 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic/Latino, 7 percent Asian and .7 percent Native American.

However, on average, the composition of our felony and gross misdemeanor cases is 33 percent white, 54 percent black, 2 percent Asian and 5 percent Native American. Hispanic/Latino is not consistently available. The racial data comes from the arresting police departments.

Freeman said the office continues to work on narrowing that disparity gap and hopes that the full impact of changes to Minnesota drug laws in 2016 and changes in charging policies for low-levels of marijuana within the county attorney’s office will start to show up in the 2019 data.

“We expect the number of drug cases to drop, as it should,” Freeman told the commissioners.

One area of success is the Juvenile Prosecution Division’s school crime referrals, which saw a 10 percent decrease in black or African-American referrals in those five years.

The data comes from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office case management system. The Minnesota Criminal Code contains hundreds of distinct offenses. For the dashboard, many similar offenses have been condensed into offense categories for a more accessible overview.

The county attorney’s office began working on the dashboard in mid-2016. There were many obstacles, particularly lacking the technology necessary to make it work and make it secure. However, the work proceeded without interruption until county attorney managers were confident in the data and the technology.