Extracting Data From the District Attorney
By Joel P. Engardio
Stop Crime SF
When residents feel unsafe, they deserve to know what kind of job San Francisco’s top prosecutor is doing. Yet District Attorney Chesa Boudin refused to release data on his case outcomes until legally forced to. This is not the way to gain public confidence and trust.
Boudin touted the thousands of cases he charged. But charges can be dismissed, diverted, or reduced. The public deserves to know the outcomes of charges — the actual convictions, sentences, and releases. Yet case outcomes were missing from Boudin’s online data dashboard.
Boudin claimed “transparency” when his data was opaque. My group Stop Crime SF filed a public records request for all of Boudin’s sentencing outcomes. We retained attorney Karl Olson, a specialist in California Public Records Act litigation with two wins at the state Supreme Court.
Refusals, resistance, and excuses
Boudin’s office initially refused to release what is supposed to be public data and then resisted doing so at every step. Boudin had lots of excuses that our attorney Olson shot down based on past cases he won when officials didn’t want to comply with public records law.
Yet Boudin’s excuses disappeared when he was forced to produce the data.
Stop Crime SF threatened litigation when Boudin gave the San Francisco Chronicle some cherry picked data that he withheld from us earlier. Suddenly, everything he gave the Chronicle arrived by email at 9pm the night before Thanksgiving.
After we threatened to sue, newly appointed City Attorney David Chiu got involved. He defends local officials against lawsuits. We want to thank Chiu’s office for facilitating the release of the data from Boudin’s office and avoiding a lawsuit Boudin would have lost.
Why meaningful data matters
It would take months of back-and-forth to get the most meaningful data — the case outcomes. We posted all correspondence and data received from Boudin’s office on the Stop Crime SF website for all reporters, researchers, residents, and crime victims to see.
The Chronicle was able to write an analysis of the case outcomes to show a decline in convictions and a rise in diversion programs since Boudin took office two years ago.
This information matters to the San Francisco residents with a long list of reasons they feel unsafe: Attacks and murders of Asian seniors, hit-and-run killings by repeat offenders, open air drug dealing resulting in a record 1,300-plus overdose deaths, and a spike in home burglaries.
It’s unfair to blame Boudin for every criminal act in San Francisco. But as Boudin faces a recall, voters need to make informed decisions about his competence and job performance. That’s why seeing the full data is so important.
What San Francisco deserves
In Chicago, progressive district attorney Kim Foxx puts all her data in the open. She lets anyone track any case from start to end with a comprehensive, transparent, and accessible online database. San Francisco deserves this, too.
Boudin’s online dashboard finally offers some of the features that his counterpart in Chicago has always provided. But it shouldn’t take threatened legal action to get Boudin to reveal his data.
Safety and justice should go together. Justice reform is necessary. For it to work, residents must feel confident public officials are doing their job to keep everyone safe. That starts with asking officials to put all crime data in the open. Join us at Stop Crime SF.
Click here to find links to all data and documents Stop Crime SF obtained in the public records request.
Originally published at https://engardio.com on March 17, 2022.