DA Kelly promised transparency — less than a year later, she’s delivering

Anne Kelly District Attorney for the 12th Judicial District

ALAMOSA — During her 2022 campaign to be elected to the position she had been appointed to by the governor just a few months before, DA Anne Kelly promised the people of the 12th Judicial District transparency.

This week, she delivered on that promise.

Thanks to a grant from the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative, the 12th Judicial District now offers on its website a “data dashboard,” a resource available to the public and designed to promote more effective, just, and transparent decision-making in prosecution.

“The move to create prosecutorial data dashboards was sparked by public demand for greater accountability and impartiality, along with a focus on community well-being and fairness,” said Don Stemen, PhD, Loyola University Chicago professor and co-manager of the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPI) Project in a statement released announcing the roll-out of the dashboard. “Increasingly, prosecutors are expected to take proactive, engaged responses to community problems, reduce disparities in justice outcomes, build greater trust through community engagement, and increase prosecutorial transparency and accountability. This requires robust data-driven prosecutorial work.”

Those are big, yet necessary, expectations for the public to have of a District Attorney’s office, and included in that is the public’s ability to hold a district attorney accountable for the actions that are taken. That accountability cannot happen if the public is not informed about what is going on, something that residents of the valley learned — firsthand — is imperative.

With the creation of the 12th Judicial District’s data dashboard, community members can now access crucial, current data to gain a better understanding of the work DA Kelly’s office is doing, including trends in cases filed and resolved over time, patterns in how individuals are treated, and how they are addressing serious crime and protecting and serving victims.

The dashboard also includes an education piece with a flow chart that illustrates how cases move through the judicial system, helping the public to better understand how the whole judicial process works.

To be clear, the status of individual cases will not be available. That information can be obtained by submitting a request to clerks of the court in the county where charges have been filed. Instead, the dashboard gives the community a big-picture perspective of how the DA’s office is performing on an ongoing basis.

“The San Luis Valley has overcome great challenges in our criminal justice system in recent years,” Kelly says. “Central to the task of rebuilding trust and restoring hope is transparency. We remain committed to building the community’s trust in the District Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement community.

“Our partnership with PPI and the data dashboard project will have a significant positive impact on these efforts and I am very excited to be part of State-wide (sic) mission to provide our citizens with accurate and informative data about the work we are doing.”

“This wasn’t just a transparency build-out for the public,” says Megan Martinez-Bagwell, Kelly’s director of administration who advocated for the DA’s office to become part of the project. “It’s also a tool for the DA’s office that allows us to make data-driven decisions instead of decisions based on anecdotes and philosophy.”

More specifically, Kelly and her staff will use data from the dashboards to improve their understanding of case outcomes for defendants in similar situations, to identify practices and programs that indicate they would net good results and determine those areas where changing how they do their jobs could be useful.

It also will allow the DA’s office to provide “data stories” to the public that are, as Martinez-Bagwell puts it, “beyond just the data that we’re seeing, including the reasons for the data and the actions that we’re taking.”

As an example, she cites information they have gleaned from the data related to how COVID impacted the progression of cases through the system.

“We’re seeing how, during COVID, we had a lot more hearings per case, which really slowed up the judicial process. So now, we’re shooting for about four to five hearings per case and setting a goal of 120 days to resolve cases so that people aren’t tied up so much for so long in the judicial system,” she says.

People who visit the site can also get information to see if trends and practices in previous administrations are continuing under Kelly’s leadership.

For example, failure to prosecute felony crimes was a huge concern in recent years. A look at the data on the DA’s website shows that, while the prosecution of cases overall is declining — largely because the district attorney is resolving the backlog of cases she inherited — the prosecution of felony cases is increasing.

At the same time, having access to data at a districtwide level can also address some perceptions that may not be founded in fact.

“We’re very cognizant that we don’t like looking like we have a disproportionately high rate of violent crime because that is just not the reality of living in the 12th Judicial District,” Martinez-Bagwell says. The data dashboard will — using real-time data — address those perceptions that may or may not be founded in fact.

Martinez-Bagwell, who is a pragmatist, freely admits that the system is not perfect yet.

“Issues with accuracy and potential discrepancies in the data have already been discovered, including omissions from previous administrations. But those issues are being rectified,” Martinez-Bagwell says.

She also clearly recognizes that transparency comes with risk. But instead of that being something to avoid, Martinez-Bagwell – who will be the one answering any questions or complaints people have — views it as an opportunity.

“Making the data so accessible to the public is going to come with a lot more questions that we really hope the public will ask,” she says.

Colorado was chosen as the state to launch the program because the same data system is shared by all the judicial districts. Despite there being 23 judicial districts in the state, only eleven opted into the program, including the 12th.

Even with all that is involved in rolling out the program, Martinez-Bagwell sees it as nothing but a win and welcomes the transparency.

“This will bring a level of transparency across the state that isn’t echoed in any other state in the country. It was also an opportunity to do this at no cost to the county since it was funded with a grant. I’m very excited to put this to work,” Martinez-Bagwell says.

“The people of the San Luis Valley deserve our full dedication to the task of building trust in law enforcement and the DA’s office,” says Kelly.

Those interested in accessing the data dashboard can do so by going to the DA’s website at https://12thjudicialdistrictattorney.org/. Once there, click on the “data dashboard” tab to enter the program and explore all that is available.

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