Cyrus Vance Jr.’s ‘Moneyball’ Approach to Crime


Chip Brown in the NYT's Magazine (photo CreditLee Friedlander for The New York Times):

In 2010, at the start of his first term, Vance drew up a list of 20 things to do; four years later he had checked them all off, except for learning Spanish. He helped create a new court that offered alternatives to prison for mentally ill defendants whose crimes might have stemmed from treatable conditions. He set up a “conviction integrity program,” which reviewed innocence claims in more than 160 cases and vacated four convictions. He pushed to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 — New York and North Carolina are the only states that treat 16-year-olds as adults. He lobbied for the New York’s All Crimes DNA law, which doubled the kinds of crimes for which DNA evidence could be collected. He focused on crimes where the numbers in New York were going the wrong way: computer fraud, identity theft, abuse of the elderly and domestic violence. He reorganized office units and bureaus and shaved nine hours off the time between arrest and arraignment, freeing up cops who used to have to wait so long to give statements that they would sometimes bring lawn chairs to the intake area in order to have a place to sit. Drunken-driving dismissals, according to the D.A.'s office, were down 81 percent; cases tossed because prosecutors violated speedy-trial rules were down 91 percent. Felony conviction rates, which were lower in Manhattan in 2009 than in the other four boroughs, now trailed only the conviction rate in Queens.

But Vance’s most significant initiative, one that has been emulated in jurisdictions from Brooklyn to San Francisco, has been to transform, through the use of data, the way district attorneys fight crime. “The question I had when I came in was, Do we sit on our hands waiting for crime to tick up, or can we do something to drive crime lower?” Vance told me one afternoon in his eighth-floor office at the Criminal Courts Building in Lower Manhattan. “I wanted to develop what I call intelligence-driven prosecution.”

Preparing to run in 2009, Vance studied “community-based prosecution” programs in Washington and consulted with experts in Milwaukee and San Francisco. The concept of expanding prosecution strategies to address neighborhood concerns emerged in the early 1990s as prosecutors and police departments grappled with an epidemic of violence, drug abuse and “quality of life” issues.

More here.