In an age where people can get a copy of “Moby Dick” instantly thanks to technology, Louisville Metro’s method for tracking people charged with crimes through the criminal justice system is remarkably antiquated.
For the most part, the process is recorded on paper.
A comprehensive profile of a person’s criminal charges usually requires separate visits to the police, the jail and the courts, city officials said.
“The way it is right now, you may have to go to five different data systems and ask for data on that one person,” said Faith Augustine, public protection coordinator with the Metro Criminal Justice Commission, an advisory board composed of city officials, judges, attorneys and police representatives.
The information isn’t integrated in Louisville, said Augustine.
Not yet, at least.
Planning will soon begin for the creation of a “criminal data warehouse” that would pool all the information — from the time of an arrest to a case’s final outcome — into an integrated electronic system
The information could then be shared, updated and accessed by the people who need it.
“As opposed to having to get paper or compare data from the different agencies and doing it by hand,” she said.
The Metro Criminal Justice Commission will soon begin partnering with outside agencies and examining how a warehouse like this could work in Louisville, Augustine said. The work is being supported by a $225,000 grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation approved this week by a Metro Council committee.
The warehouse could also potentially provide a new way of examining the effectiveness of the city’s criminal justice system, said Stephanie Stidham of the Metro Criminal Justice Commission.
“To see where your gaps are, to see where you’re doing things well, or where maybe you need some extra attention and resources,” she said. “Because, right now, we don’t have an electronic system that allows us to do that.”
One task will be figuring out how existing data systems can be integrated into a new system, she said.
The data warehouse concept isn’t unique to Louisville.
Charlotte started operating one in May.
Melissa Neal, who leads the team operating Charlotte’s data warehouse, said the system took years to establish. “Tremendous amounts” data on arrests, jails and court procedures had to be corralled into the single database.
The result has led to more efficiency.
“We’re able to look at top charges for people coming into the system, into the jail,” said Neal, planning manager for the Mecklenburg County Criminal Justice Service.
“We’re able to look at bond amounts that are keeping people in the jail,” she said. “There’s just a tremendous amount of information to scan through to identify gaps in the system and weaknesses so we can improve.”
The general public in Charlotte can’t yet access the system, but Neal said that is part of the long-term plan.
For the time being, residents can get information from Charlotte’s system by contacting the service, Neal said.
The information the system gathers is public information.
“We don’t share anything that would by law require some confidentiality agreement,” she said.
It’s too early to know when residents could see this new data system put to use in Louisville, Stidham said.
The Arnold grant still needs Metro Council approval; afterward, city officials can begin thinking about what must be done to streamline Louisville’s criminal justice data.
In the meantime, Louisville officials are keeping in touch with staff from Charlotte’s new service to get a glimpse of potential obstacles, and to get a sense of best practices.
“We can kind of learn from them in a real-time environment,” Stidham said.