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Criminal justice data portal could soon be open to public

New facts and figures are expected to pave way to meaningful reform.

A state-backed criminal justice data portal could be ready for public use online within three weeks.

That’s according to Charles Schaeffer, who directs the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) branch of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. CJIS conducts criminal record keeping, screening, and statistical analysis, according to its website.

Schaeffer, speaking to state lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, said the portal will contain 10 years worth of information. He previewed screenshots of the portal to members, showing graphs comparing stats like “race” and “court outcomes.” The data, while presented in an interactive way, also will be available for personal download.

The portal is one of many provisions provided by a measure (SB 1392) passed and signed by former Gov. Rick Scott last year.

The law provided for what’s been described as a revolutionary collection of in-depth criminal justice data across the state, mandating the reporting of data like prior incarcerations, race or ethnicity, and gender.

While delivering an update the data collection, Schaeffer recommended spawning a uniform arrest form, or “A Form,” to be used by officers across all judicial circuits, “so when we collect information on subjects that are arrested, we collect it in the same way across the entire state.”

He also asked the panel to consider methods of standardizing the FDLE Statute Table. He said that the list — “updated annually by laws that create, amend, or repeal statutory material,” according to FDLE’s website — is modified across judicial circuits.

“That causes issues with data when it comes up to the state level,” Schaeffer said.

Lastly, Schaeffer recommended fixing what he described as a Notice to Appear (NTA) “loophole.”

He said when members of law enforcement issue an NTA instead of taking someone to jail and booking them, it “causes a difference in what is recorded at the state level.”

That’s because an NTA doesn’t come with fingerprints, which are needed to “create a criminal history record,” Schaeffer said, explaining that a “criminal record” is needed for uniform state records.

Republican state Rep. Paul Renner, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told Florida Politics that his panel intends to make changes necessary to keep the transparency initiative from last year afloat.

“This year is an opportunity to follow up on the progress of the implementation and make any necessary adjustments to give full effectiveness to what our intent, which was to have the ability to fully measure every aspect of the criminal justice system,” Renner, of Palm Coast, said.

Renner, a former prosecutor in line to become House Speaker in 2022, added that it’s too early to tell what the data will show policymakers and the public. But he expects the new information to help guide criminal justice reform.

The data, he said, is expected to give “objective” answers to “what types of things are effective, what types of things are leading to a reduction in recidivism, what type of sentencing is leading to a safer environment for Floridians, and what type of sentencing or sanctions are not effective.”

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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