Law enforcement agencies across the country have been under a spotlight over the past several years, with accusations of discrimination and misconduct leading to calls for greater transparency and accountability. Yet there is very little concrete data to assess trends and the effectiveness of policies that are in place to ensure fairness and equity.

“Criminal justice data management today is incredibly antiquated,” says Nicole Shanahan, a Stanford CodeX fellow who is leading its Smart Prosecution Project. “If you compare it with, say, the financial industry, we are probably 30 years behind. The systems used to store the data are very hard to work with so it’s challenging to take information out and make use of it.”  Shanahan explains that the project aims, primarily, to develop best practices to help transition DA offices to Web 2.0 big data standards.

The Smart Prosecution Project brings law and computer sciences students together to first mine and clean up the data and to create a system so that data can be analyzed. The team has been assisting the San Francisco DA’s Office Blue Ribbon Panel, a task force set up to investigate several police officers for misconduct, and will provide key findings at an upcoming meeting.

For Rachel Boochever, a first-year law student at Stanford Law School with an interest in the intersection of law and technology, the experience has been invaluable. “Participating in the Smart Prosecution Project has allowed me to better understand the impact of using data and technology to improve the way we practice law,” she says. “This experiential learning is a great complement to the legal theory I’m learning in class.”

As the data side of the project takes shape, more emphasis will be put on policy. “When you have the ability to ask questions of the database, you can think about policy completely differently,” says Shanahan. “Instead of searching in the dark entering each case within a silo, each case can now be reviewed within that entire corpus of all activity.”