Ramsey County Attorney John Choi unveiled an online database Thursday that’s designed to help residents better understand who is prosecuted for alleged crimes.
“I think one of the things we as a society need is a greater sense of ownership of the criminal justice system and a better understanding of it,” Choi said at a news conference introducing the dashboard. “The data can really start and generate conversation.”
The new dashboard includes data from 2017 through the current year. It is largely focused on felony crimes, but also includes information on things like juvenile justice, child support, employee diversity and diversion programs.
The dashboard includes details about the age, gender, race and ethnicity of residents accused and charged with crimes.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
About 60 percent of the charges referred to the county attorney by police are prosecuted, with the rest either refused or settled in some other way.
Theft is the top crime prosecuted by the county attorney with nearly 2,500 cases in the timeframe covered by the dashboard. Domestic assault, assault and drug charges also each topped more than 2,000 charges since 2017.
Black residents represented roughly 52 percent of people prosecuted while making up just over 13 percent of the county population.
Criminal referrals the county attorney refused to prosecute broke down along roughly the same racial and ethnic lines as cases that were prosecuted.
Prosecution of drug crimes has declined since Choi decided not to pursue the lowest level cases.
Choi acknowledged that the data “just scratches the surface.” For a more complete picture, data from police and the courts would need to be combined with information from the county attorney.
That could help residents better understand crime trends in their communities and why some cases are charged and others are not.
Choi says there’s a built-in assumption that every case brought by police is charged, but sometimes there’s insufficient evidence.
“The prosecutor doesn’t charge people because someone got arrested and we think they did the crime,” he said, adding that there needs to be enough evidence to prove it in court.
The new Ramsey County Attorney’s Office data comes after Choi and other law enforcement officials have faced criticism for pulling back on the prosecution of low-level drug offenses.
Public safety was a key focus of lawmakers during the legislative session that ended in May. Republicans proposed a bill to require county attorneys to report why certain charges were not pursued.
Choi said the new database has been in the works for a while and is not a response to any legislative proposals. He noted that Ramsey County law enforcement is focused on prosecuting and preventing violent crime.
“The highest priority I have in this office is to address violent crime,” Choi said.