1. Opinion

As prosecutors, we’re working to be more more accountable and transparent | Column

New indicators will tell us — and the public — about the quality and impact of our work, write the state attorneys for Hillsborough and Jacksonville.

Government cannot be run like a business, but it can — and should — adhere to certain business principles. The ardent collection and use of data to inform policy is one such principle in which government and, specifically, a prosecutor’s office is often limited.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warrren
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warrren [ Andrew Warrren ]

We are changing that dynamic. We are elected prosecutors from two coasts of Florida. We both took office in 2017 to establish transparent, accountable, equitable and efficient prosecutor offices. We are on opposite sides of the political aisle but are united under the common purpose of improving the safety and well-being of the communities we serve.

Our efforts to embrace these ideals have been greatly assisted by a national project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety & Justice Challenge, and implemented by criminologists at Florida International University and Loyola University Chicago. Over the past three years, we opened our doors to these researchers to analyze our work and help us answer important questions. The result of this project is the development of metrics, called the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs).

Melissa Nelson
Melissa Nelson [ Provided ]

The PPIs expand the way we measure the field of prosecution. Traditional metrics such as case counts, trial numbers and conviction rates create a narrow viewpoint of how prosecutors' offices are understood. These new indicators will tell us — and the public — about the quality and impact of our work in a more in-depth and broader way. And they will help us answer questions that are critical to our roles in the criminal justice system.

Are we addressing serious crime by reducing recidivism? How quickly are we contacting victims of crime whose cases are with us for prosecutorial decisions? How efficiently are we processing cases? Are we treating defendants, regardless of their race or ethnicity, the same as we handle and resolve their cases?

These answers and others can be measured through the PPIs. The development of these metrics has required our offices to adopt a more research- and data-informed culture, and as a result we are now able to track trends, flag potential deficiencies, and devise and execute strategies to address issues.

We are also committed to sharing these results with the public. That is why we are in the midst of producing Florida’s first public-facing prosecutorial dashboards that will provide data across dozens of measures — which we will update on a regular basis with an explanation of the results. With this step, we hope that community members, advocacy groups, researchers and reporters will be better able to stay informed about our work.

This transformative project demonstrates our commitment to public safety, fairness, accountability and transparency. Through it, we will establish something people expect from their elected leaders: better government.

Andrew Warren is state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, which covers Hillsborough County. Melissa Nelson is state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit in Jacksonville.