Long Beach’s ‘Justice Lab’ Uses Data to Direct Reform

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This is a guest post by Dr. Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach, California.

Like many communities across the nation, our city of Long Beach, California, is constantly looking for new approaches to improve public safety and the well-being of residents.

We have a lot to be proud of on this front. Our crime rate dropped in 2017, and our response time to 911 calls is among the fastest in the country. We owe this success to the exceptional work of our first responders, our residents, and our community groups all working to make Long Beach safer.

Still, we know there is more work to be done.

We are one of more than 20 cities across the world that are part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Teams Program, which helps cities solve problems in new ways to deliver better results for residents. Last year, as the Long Beach i-team completed its work supporting local businesses, I charged them with finding creative fixes to improve public safety.

Long Beach knew compiling already collected data was the right place to start. After looking at over 100,000 records from the past five years, the i-team identified areas for improvement. The data presented 875 individuals in Long Beach booked or cited eleven times or more by our Police Department. The data showed that these individuals cycled through public safety services frequently and 85 percent received citations for low level offenses, such as open container charges.

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These residents are often not connected to the assistance that can help them break out of this cycle. We can continue to arrest them indefinitely or we can try to understand how to help people end these patterns.

Working closely with our police, fire, and health departments as well as the city prosecutor, the i-team developed several initiatives we are already piloting to help residents get out of the criminal justice system and back on track. These pilots have all come together as the Long Beach Justice Lab. We’re calling it a lab because we are continuously refining it to produce better results. We understand even the most thought-out plans may not work as intended—and that’s okay. By constantly looking at how we are approaching the work we do, we’re better able to adjust and then do it better.

As part of the Justice Lab, the city launched a new multidisciplinary team to identify and deploy services more effectively to people who frequently come into contact with the justice system and create a data-sharing platform where departments will input information about the services residents receive.

Another important initiative from the Justice Lab is to place a mental health clinician in the city jail where currently no mental health services exist. The clinician will assess, connect, and divert individuals to care.

The data-informed approach of the Justice Lab builds from the work of the Long Beach Data Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative. Long Beach is one of sixty cities that joined a White House initiative in 2016 to use data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system. We are continuing this important work with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Since January 2017, representatives from police, fire, health, planning and the City Prosecutor’s Office have met monthly to discuss how the city might integrate a more data-driven approach to public safety. We reached a significant milestone in May 2017, when we completed a data sharing regulation that establishes policies and procedures for the sharing of data among the 24 Departments within the City of Long Beach, so that city-based providers have access to the information they need to best serve residents.

We know from the i-team’s past work supporting local business that innovation can deliver results. In 2015, the median wait time for a business to secure a license was as high as 56 days during one quarter; by the end of 2016, it was 14 days. We also raised the percentage of city procurement dollars that go to local businesses by 5 percent over the same period.

There is no reason we can’t make similar progress on public safety. We are proud of our efforts to make Long Beach a safe place for all our residents, and we hope to see positive impacts soon.

Mayor HeadshotAbout the Author: Dr. Robert Garcia was elected Mayor of the City of Long Beach, California in 2015 after first serving on the City Council. He received his Ed.D in Education Policy from California State University, Long beach in 2010.