By Heather Mac Donald
August 9, 2014

Prosecutors’ offices are finally joining the intelligence revolution that has transformed policing since the 1990s. That revolution dates to 1994, when William J. Bratton took over the New York Police Department and declared that his goal was to prevent crime, not just respond to it. Bratton’s new proactive mission for the NYPD required the department to closely analyze crime data on a daily basis and to refine its tactics and deployment according to what the data showed. Bratton’s paradigm shift, known as Compstat, quickly spread through police departments across the country.

Prosecution, however, has remained in a reactive mode. District attorneys generally view their role as doing justice in the individual cases that the police bring to them; they are less likely to consider the effect a prosecution might have on broader lawlessness or how a defendant fits into the criminal landscape. Vital information about offender networks gleaned in the course of preparing a case for trial remains on a prosecutor’s legal pad without getting conveyed back to the police or to other prosecutors. With few exceptions, prosecutors have gauged their success by convictions, not by crime declines.

That reactive mind-set is changing, however, aided by the exploitation of social media and other cutting-edge technologies. Prosecutors from San Francisco to New York are reconceptualizing their mission to include preventing violence, and they are developing information-sharing systems to accomplish that goal.

The Manhattan district attorney, for example, created a Crime Strategies Unit in 2010 with the single goal of gathering and deploying intelligence on Manhattan’s crime patterns and its most serious offenders. The unit has compiled a database of Manhattan’s most significant criminal players — now numbering about 9,000 — whose arrest anywhere in the city immediately triggers an alert to one of the Crime Strategies Unit attorneys. The attorney will then contact the local prosecutor who has been assigned the case — whether in Manhattan or another borough — to make sure the defendant is prosecuted to the full extent of the law rather than slipping through the cracks.
Prosecutors from San Francisco to New York are reconceptualizing their mission to include preventing violence. –

The arrest alert system recognizes that a defendant’s official history of arrests and convictions may fail to convey his position in the criminal food chain. A 16-year-old gang member may be responsible for numerous shootings, as attested to by his and others’ Facebook pages, but never arrested for any of them because his victims and witnesses refused to cooperate with the police.

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