HANCOCK COUNTY — The county prosecutor’s office is in need of a new criminal records and data system — one which would be transparent and shareable with law enforcement officials and the community, prosecutor Brent Eaton said.
Eaton hopes to have all parties involved in criminal justice matters, including the community, able to look at monthly data broken down by demographics such as type of crime, race, indigent status, diverted cases, as well as how fast a case moves through the system. Having such a network would help law enforcement to better track criminal justice goals and get a better handle on data and how it flows while showing monthly, quarterly and yearly county trends, Eaton said.
“It’s important to be able to follow progress or the lack of progress being made toward criminal justice goals and for the community as well as law enforcement to have all the information,” Eaton said.
He first introduced the idea for a new computer data sharing program to the Hancock County Council in January. County officials asked him to come back with final costs and more information on how the program would benefit the local judicial system.
Eaton said he will ask county officials during the July meeting for the funds, $250,000, to purchase software called Commons, a program designed by a nonprofit organization called Measures for Justice who collect criminal justice data.
From the time a person is arrested, processed, assessed, sent through the court system and assigned a punishment, hundreds of county employees collect data and work on each individual case. Eaton said the county needs a system that ties everything together so officials can better run their offices and keep track of data and trends.
“Out of all the things the government does locally, the justice system is our largest investment and there is no plausible, easy way to understand, to know exactly what we are really doing,” Eaton said.
It’s important, Eaton said, for county officials to know how effective what they’re doing is or is not, and they currently don’t have any type of system tracking that, Eaton said.
Eaton also noted people who live in the county need to have a place where they can go to better understand what the county criminal justice system is doing with their tax dollars and determine if it is working well.
“The prosecutor’s office locally handles not hundreds, but thousands of cases annually,” Eaton said. “People in the public, including taxpayers along with community leaders may know about a handful of bigger cases, but we do so much more than that, and this will allow the community to see that.”
Eaton stressed his point, saying there is nothing more important in a community than public safety, and county officials need to have the proper data collecting system so they can make decisions on how the county’s money is being spent.
“I want our officials to have the hard facts to help them make the best decisions,” Eaton said.
County council president Bill Bolander said the council has always worked with local officials to make sure they have the tools needed to run their offices. However, he’s still not sure if approving a quarter of a million dollars for a computer program is the best option.
“I’m still up in the air on because that is a lot of money,” Bolander said. “I just wonder for that amount of money, how important are those statistics?”
Before he votes in favor of the measure, Bolander said he needs to find out what comes with the system and what type of yearly fees are associated with the purchase. He also fears the county will have to hire another person to deal with the intake of data.
Council member Jeannine Gray said she’s in the same boat as Bolander and wants to hear more about how spending $250,000 will benefit the county.
“Not unlike Bill, I’m kind of up in the air because as I understand it, he’s also planning to ask for additional staffing so, needless to say, before we spend a quarter of a million dollars, I want and need to hear more,” she said.
Eaton contents he would not be asking for the software system if the county didn’t need it and said his office is vastly understaffed to collect and assess data as it should, things the computer system can do.
“I don’t want to just look at individual cases,” Eaton said. “I need to see trends, and this program gives us what we truly need because our fundamental duty is to keep people safe, but right now we have no effective means to see how or if that is happening.”