“I don’t think I ever planned on coming into office with a global pandemic happening,” said Colorado First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King. With it came challenges to how courtrooms operated, jails handled booking and a backlog of cases for the DA’s office.
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But it also brought transparency to the office and new programs to keep people from ending up in court in the first place. Moving into the new year, King told of cold cases being solved, backlogs dissipating and what she hopes to achieve in 2023 during a recent interview with Colorado Community Media.
What actually caused the backlog of cases during COVID-19 was not what most people thought, she said, but “because we could not put enough people in the same room for jury selection, especially in major cases.” While she said the DA’s office has gotten back on track in the last six months, it did bring some positive change.
Since jails in Jefferson County are still suffering from COVID-19 outbreaks, people with charges have been, and are, attending court through video streaming rather than in person, forcing a break in what King described as traditionally rigid schedules and expectations in the courts. This has allowed people who may want to support those with charges in court to tune in rather than have to visit court in person, she explained, as people may not be able to take a day off. It’s also allowed more flexibility to DA office staff who may be sick or at home.
“At the end of the day I do think it has increased accessibility,” King said.
The DA’s office has also launched multiple preemptive programs this past year to keep people from entering court in the first place.
Called the Pathways Diversion Program, it aims to resolve issues before cases are even filed. One example she gives is uninsured or unlicensed drivers.
“One of the biggest things we battle is actually folks who don’t have insurance or don’t have their driver’s license,” she said. “In that courthouse, many, many people are coming through the doors because of those issues. And many, many, people are picking up warrants because of those issues, and they’re the kind of issues that snowball.”
The program offers navigation to work with the DMV to get relicensed if they can, and to get insured, investing in those costs rather than a cycle of fines and fees, she said.
Internally, the DA’s office has also worked on transparency, launching a Data Transparency Dashboard. King explained that she and her counterpart in Arapahoe county, 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, worked to create a public-facing database with basic information on the number of cases, unfiled cases, how people have pled guilty, sentences and race and ethnicity data.
“We really wanted to have more data internally, and also more data externally,” King said. “We felt these were all things incredibly important for the community to be able to access.”
Eight other offices are joining the database as well, she elaborated.
To King, the major internal advantage of the database is having all the data in one place and being able to analyze it. With that, she said a disparity analysis will be released to the public in February.
“It’s kind of an in-depth look at race and ethnicity at key decision points where DA’s hold a lot of influence, and what happens,” she explained. “Sharing data, and leadership, all require vulnerability. It only has meaning if everyone can have an informed conversation around what’s actually happening.”
Looking toward the upcoming year, the office is working with the Equity Project — an organization that helps organizations advance equity efforts — to create “actionable steps” from the disparity analysis, King said.
“That is internal, but it will affect external work because we are in the people business,” she elaborated. “What we do is impact people outside this office.”
Starting July 1, due to Colorado’s Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act passed in 2020, all local law enforcement agencies and the Colorado state patrol must be issued body-worn cameras. Another major goal for 2023, according to King, is how to utilize the thousands of body-worn cameras that will be coming online.
“We want to be able to utilize all that data effectively, and that is a massive amount of data,” she said. Part of that utilization is an analysis of the data to better the DA’s office.
“Every DA in this building wants to make sure they’re doing the right thing, and that’s very community-defined,” King said. And this data could help find that definition, along with the disparity analysis to “define the right thing as far as justice goes.”
King also explained that having precise data helps when asking for funding, and it allows for precise conversations about issues affecting Jefferson County.
“I feel like we can have more informed conversations about what matters to Jeffco, as opposed to having conversations that are more maybe even Denver-centric,” she explained. “Where we can say look, this is what the issue is here in Jeffco, and these are numbers you can rely upon.”
King’s personal goals as DA for this year are still embedded in data, wanting to not just use body-camera footage and the office’s dashboard as a diagnostic tool, but for something more. What that is yet, she doesn’t know. She also wants to work on staff retention.
“It’s not the easiest to convince people that the DA right now is the place to be to make meaningful change, so we’re working on that,” King said. “One of my personal goals is making sure we have a retention plan and we’re really rewarding our staff that just do an incredible job every day.”
1/18/22 Correction: George Brauchler was previously stated as having worked with King on the digital dashboard. It was corrected to 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner.
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