New initiative may help Thurston County decide future law and justice policy


Thurston County may have better data for deciding law and justice policies after joining a new nationwide initiative.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to join the Justice Counts Initiative earlier this month. By joining this initiative, the county will receive technical assistance to help it improve its data collection and presentation.

The board's action also furthers a preexisting effort to break down "data silos" amongst the county's various law enforcement departments and agencies, Commissioner Tye Menser said before the Nov. 7 vote.

"We've all got numbers and they all need to work together," Menser said. "They really haven't and don't... So, this will help, I think, help us down that road. And then we can really make good policy decisions to make justice more efficient, fair, equitable and effective."

This initiative is an effort funded by the federal Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance and co-led by 22 organizations with criminal justice expertise, according to a Thurston County news release.

Leah Landon, the county's Criminal Justice Regional Program Manager, said the initiative will provide free technical assistance to the county.

"The technical assistance from Justice Counts will allow us to better understand how we can improve our current data collection to help us make data-driven decisions regarding law and justice programs, better supporting our community," Landon said in the release.

During the Board of Commissioners meeting, Landon said the county will prioritize reviewing its current data collection with help from the initiative and looking for ways to improve.

From there, she said the county will build a "data governance structure," creating a process by which data is kept, stored and analyzed. The county news release says this structure will be built with an "equity lens" in mind.

The county aims to create metrics that are agreed upon by county agencies, including the jail, courts, Pretrial Services, Sheriff's Office, Public Defense and Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

After that, she said the county will build a so-called "data warehouse," a single place where all the data from offices and departments are stored, allowing the county to share and display data with automated visualizations and dashboards that show big-picture trends.

Landon said data that's collected and stored in this way could help the county gain new perspectives on important topics such as recidivism, which is the tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend.

Commissioner Gary Edwards thanked Landon for her efforts to keep the county on the "cutting edge" of solving community-wide problems.

"Sometimes it takes much more than just the initial arrest," Edwards said. "Oftentimes, there are many underlying factors that need to come into play. And I think she exemplifies what we're trying to do."