Can Data-Driven Prosecution Really Stem Crime Rates?


"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?" – Cyrus Vance Jr., New York County D.A.

prosecutor's have begun to take a more offensive, rather than defensive, approach to criminal justice, using what many are calling intelligence-driven or data-driven prosecution. Using criminal databases and "smarter prosecuting" has required more teamwork between police and prosecutors. While this can yield more information for prosecutors, critics argue that it puts the prosecutors at risk for becoming extensions of the police force.

With this increase in information, prosecutor's have been able to identify who are the repeat offenders, uncooperative witnesses, and offenders who have shown no signs of stopping – and focus on them.

For New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., data is a tool that often brings about increased safety, swifter justice, and more appropriate sentences. On the other side of the argument are those that believe data-driven prosecution is victimizing low-level offenders, putting them in criminal databases simply because they might be prone to re-offending or have information on other, more desirable criminals.

While the increased data and open flow of information between police and prosecutor's has undoubtedly contributed to decreased crime rates, it is difficult to prove this is the only or even the primary cause for this phenomenon. Many suggest the noticeable decline in crime rates, particularly in New York City, have just as much to do with complex demographic and social trends.

Vance, and others like him, emphasize the importance of safety over convictions, which he believes can be attained not only be prosecuting crimes, but taking informed measures to prevent crime.

Whether or not you agree with Vance and his data-driven prosecuting, it is still interesting to note the marked change in prosecutors' collective realization that the U.S. has a problem with over-incarceration. They recognize that putting more people in jail just to get any and all offenders off the street does little to curb crime rates.

"Jail is not an economically sustainable model. We need to know for whom jail is appropriate and whom it isn't," says Cristine Soto DeBerry, chief of staff to San Francisco D.A. George Gascon. This opinion highlights why more and more prosecutor's are drawn toward data-driven practices, and heavier communication between police and prosecutors.