My View: Reisig Sees Transparency As Reform, but Is It?

Reisig stands to give his opening statement

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has on the one hand struck back against progressive reforms that he sees as failing in places like San Francisco and in the state of California (for example Prop. 47 and Prop. 57 to name a few), while at the same time argued that under his watch over the last ten years or so, “we’ve done some major reforms.”

At a recent candidates’ forum, he said, “We partnered with measures for, to be the first DA in the country to launch a third party, hosted transparency portal, to build public confidence and trust in the government, in the DA’s office. We also made the multicultural community council. We partnered with Stanford University to build a first of its kind race blind charging program that we built into the DNA of my case management system…”

The transparency portal that was done in partnership with the non-profit, Measures for Justice, Reisig has touted as being innovative and first in the nation.  Whether Yolo County has taken the lead on this or not is perhaps subject for debate, but transparency has become the rage and Reisig has recently partnered with Assemblymember Ash Kalra on AB 2418—a transparency bill that is backed by, among others, the ACLU and SF DA Chesa Boudin.

Transparency is naturally an important component of accountability.  It has allowed us to better assess things like racial disparity.

The DA claims that he has already used the dashboard or the “Commons” to focus priorities and drive policy change.  As Robert Hansen noted for instance, “One such change is that the office no longer automatically disqualifies an individual from being referred to a diversion program based on their criminal history.”

Under Kalra, himself a former public defender, his bill would require prosecutors statewide, under the guidance of the Attorney General, to gather and provide multiple data points to the AG concerning the prosecution of cases.

“This has already been a game-changer,” Assemblymember Kalra said.

While I see transparency as a necessary condition for reform to occur—it is not itself criminal justice reform.  In fact, I would argue that the door could in fact swing both ways.

We know from the advent of things like CompStat in policing, that data does not equate necessarily with reform.  For example, NY’s William Bratton developed the CompStat system to analyze where crime occurred, believing that would allow the police to better locate their resources.

But critics charge that CompStat has turned policing into a numbers game, with the implementation of numerical productivity goals or even quotas that increased rather than decreased enforcement.

San Francisco has implemented its own version of the dashboard.  The result is not necessarily reform.

In April, for instance, Mission Local reported, “Despite widespread claims that the San Francisco District Attorney refuses to file charges, a recently released data dashboard from the DA’s office shows that, in 2021, Chesa Boudin actually filed charges at a slightly higher rate overall than any San Francisco prosecutor since 2011.”

However, they noted, “What is different under Boudin is that more people charged are channeled into diversion programs that involve alternatives to incarceration” and as a result, “convictions have shown a marked decline under Boudin, and “successful diversions” have increased.”

The problem is the data have been used to attack the DA, and as the report noted, “this pattern has also drawn intense criticism from law enforcement and residents.”

The Chronicle in an in-depth analysis found that “Boudin’s overall charging rate is 48%, slightly lower than predecessor George Gascón’s 54% in his last two years and on par with Gascón’s charging rates in 2016 and 2017.”

But they point out that “overall charging rates can be misleading because the types of cases the D.A. receives from police can change significantly from year to year, especially during abnormal periods such as the current global pandemic.”

For example, “The data shows that homicide conviction rates have increased from 67% of 39 cases during the final two years of Gascón’s leadership to 83% of 42 cases under Boudin, while rape conviction rates have decreased from 81% of 48 cases under Gascón to 70% of 40 cases under Boudin.”

Finally last July data showed that Boudin prosecutes fewer shoplifting crimes than his predecessors.

In all, the data has largely been used by critics to charge that Boudin has been softer on crime than his predecessors and thus used data not to implement criminal justice reform, but to oppose it.

Thus, while transparency may be important and necessary, it is not necessarily leading to a push for reform.

Another problem with data is that without skilled analysts, there is a tendency to just throw out numbers without proper use of statistical techniques and, worse yet, without understanding those numbers.

One area where this is a clear problem is with racial disparities.  In June of 2020 when Public Defender Tracie Olson highlighted the racial disparities in the Yolo County, Reisig went on the attack accusing her of accusing law enforcement and his office of racism.

However, the data are clear and last week, as Reisig put it, “It is a fact there is a racial disparity in Yolo County.”

He added though, “When you look at who’s being arrested by the, the police and who’s in our jail and we can have probably hours and hours of discussion of what’s going on. There’s lots of factors that play into that, but it is a fact, but here’s the other thing you need to know. We’re not alone.”

It is true.  And Yolo County is not the worst.  But it is in the top five worst in the state

So, while Reisig is correct that “we need to look at this on a state by state basis” and frankly a nationwide basis, “because there are things that are driving the disparity, which I indicate to you are they are systemic in the sense that we see these patterns all going all the way to San Francisco.”

Reisig has pointed to policing patterns and the need for racial blind charging policies, which he has attempted to implement.

Moreover, from day one, he has also attempted to deflect from the statistic.  Last month Jonathan Raven, his chief deputy DA, pointed out that “two-thirds of violent crimes committed by Black people are out-of-county residents and the other third are in-county.”

Blacks make up about three percent of the population in Yolo County but over one-quarter of the jail population.

“I’m not really sure why that is but these are interesting data points that we can use to solve issues,” Raven said.

A key question is how meaningful this distinction actually is.  Does racial disparity not count if it is from non-Yolo County residents?

The real problem, as Cynthia Rodriguez points out, is “the statistics need to be analyzed.”  And not analyzed by the DA’s office itself, but probably by a skilled data analyst who doesn’t have a horse in the game.

“We don’t know what the analysis would be—because it hasn’t been done,” Rodriguez argued.  “What are the offenses that are being charged mostly that are imbalanced?”

She pointed out, “We need to find out what’s going on there—since he put out those statistics a year ago, there has been no further conversation about it.”

She said, “We can’t go on expecting society to remain calm and to remain safe for us all—if we don’t find out why we are imprisoning more people in racial minorities that don’t match their population in the county.”

She also questioned the usefulness of pointing out “these people are from out of county.”  She asked, “Why?  Why are only African Americans from out of county coming here and committing crimes?  It doesn’t make sense.  It’s not a complete story we’re getting.”

The bottom line is that transparency is helpful.  We should support it.  But it is not itself criminal justice reform.  It could lead to reform.  It could lead also to obfuscation.  It could also lead to a push for harsher prosecution and sentencing policies.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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