Your Criminal Justice System: An Overview
As the 6th Judicial District Attorney's Office embarks on a more data driven approach to criminal justice issues, it is important to get a sense of where we stand currently and establish a baseline. This will allow us to identify areas of strength upon which we can build, areas where improvement is needed, and benchmark our performance as we move forward.
Case Filings in the Sixth Judicial District
Our dashboard represents the total number of cases filed by this office, an important metric in analyzing general crime trends. For our office to file a case, the incident has to be (1) cleared (an arrest is made) and (2) our office has a good faith belief in conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
The chart below shows the total number of case filings per year across the entire district from 1998 to 2021, and is divided among the four most recent elected District Attorneys. (fn.1.)
The trend is obvious: since 2008, we have seen a overall decrease in the number of criminal cases filed in our jurisdiction.
How do we stack up in comparison to crime rates across Colorado and across the U.S.? Take a look:
Here's the Colorado Average Yearly Crime Rate from 2008-2021 (fn.2):
And here is the U.S. Crime Rate from 2008-2020 (fn.3):
The comparison is pretty stark. Between 2008 and 2021, crime rates, based on state and federal authorities crime reporting, have been going up steadily, with a major jump in crime rates since 2019. Here in the 6th JD, we have seen crime dropping since 2008 to their lowest rates in the last 23 years. (fn.4). While the numbers reported for Colorado and the U.S. crime rates are slightly higher than cases actually filed by this District Attorney's office, this comparison is still useful to show the overall trend, which is headed in the right direction.
Case Filings by Type: a Deeper Look
Here is where things get interesting. This data dashboard allows us to drill down into the data and examine how and why we have seen a drop in case filings across our district. Take a look at the following charts:
What I see here is that although there is some variation in person crimes and crimes that are classified as felonies, which are generally the most serious cases out office sees, the major change driving the drop in overall case numbers is actually in misdemeanor and traffic offenses.
What does it mean?
When I look at this data, I am optimistic. From a starting point, I have always believed there are too many cases in the criminal justice system, and have sought to find alternative solutions to dealing with low level offenders and offenses. This data shows me that we are finding ways to reduce the number of low level cases coming into the court system, thereby reducing our overall case filings, without sacrificing community safety. It also shows that we are treating the serious criminal cases seriously; felony cases and person cases have stayed steady at a time when the crime rate across Colorado and the U.S. has gone up dramatically. This is good news.
However, we have a lot of work to do. Future posts will address the clear disparities present in our race and ethnicity data, and delve into troubling trends about the time it takes for victims to achieve justice in our court systems.
fn.1: These numbers are slightly different than those reflected in the data dashboard based on different methodology.
fn.4: Last years' uptick in case filings reflects an adjustment from an artificially low number of filings in 2020 due to COVID-19.