Monday, June 2, 2008

How To Improve The "Community Impact Statement" Portion Of The City Attorney's Website photo

I spent a few weeks submitting community impact statements about various criminals--oh, geez, about two dozen statements before tonight's fireworks finale with Khameron NMN Lake-- figuring out the good and bad points of the website which allows citizens this kind of easy access.

What follows is my analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the website, geared specifically for the minds of the nerdy, lovable public policy wonks of Minneapolis who (rumor has it) sometimes read this blog...

First, of course, let's focus on the positive. Wow--! Citizens can submit impact statements via the internet from the comfort of their own homes, or while sipping a latte somewhere with wireless access. (Unless they want to be anonymous, in which case they must apparently go to a police station and do it in the presence of an officer)

Will modern marvels and wonders never cease?

It's cool how the site lets you search by police precinct, neighborhood, name of defendant, etcetera. Despite the flaws in the site, it is an amazing and powerful took and I want to turn on as many citizens as possible to using it, as somebody turned me on to using it.

(First time is free, second is on me...and after that, in my experience, it becomes quite an addiction)

However, the site has flaws. Lots of flaws. Here are the ones I've found.

* It is sticky. You can try to make the menu come up to search for "neighborhood," and somehow get stuck in "precinct." It's not very amenable to moving back and forth, sometimes, with my "back button." (Don't tell me it's my equipment...other sites work fine except, of course, sticky and cheesy government sites designed by wannabe computer nerds who couldn't hack it in the real world of web design, but somehow figured out how to submit a winning RFP)

* You lose your data if you don't know the quirks of the site. For example, the site allows you to see your statement before you send it, but if you don't print a copy, or copy and paste, you won't have a copy of the document for your records. The site sends an email confirmation, yes, but the confirmation doesn't include a copy of your statement, just some alpha-numeric gibberish like "Thank you for submitting a statement about case 27CR0826350."

* There needs to be a way to search for offenders whose cases currently are accepting community impact statements. I understand the need to have all the names up there showing case resolutions, including dismissed cases and cases which are no longer accepting community impact statements.

But if I want to be an "aggressively good citizen" and submit community impact statements about all the prostitutes, drug loiterers, and public process hinder-ers in my neighborhood, I need to be able to filter those folks out of all the resolved cases so I don't have to sort through all of them.

* Two thousand characters? Are you kidding? One could write a whole lot more than 2,000 characters about a character like Khameron NMN Lake, the scourge of my block. That's not nearly enough space for citizens who have truly suffered and need to be able to say how they've suffered. The number seems quite arbitrary. Does the STATUTE specify citizens may only submit statements of 2,000 characters? I seriously doubt it. Putting this requirement on citizens seems "extra-legal." I would go so far as to say "Our rights are being trampled."

* So tell me how much I'm over. Worse than the fact you can only submit 2,000 words is that the website will reject longer statements, but not tell you how many characters you are over. Really, this is positively Stone Age when it comes to what people have grown accustomed to when it comes to "the Internets."

* Is that guidance or an order? The website gives some guidance--right above the place where you type your little offering of words--for the kind of things citizens might submit in their statement, like how they've altered their habits because of the fear of crime. There is, of course, a link to the statute in question.

However, it's not clear to the citizen who just wants to USE the site rather than do a lot of digging whether those words are guidance, a suggestion, or the only things they are allowed (under the statute) to write about. Citizens in particular would like to know if they can ask for things like geographic restrictions or suggest things--even merciful things--like drug treatment.

* Pretty cryptic, isn't it? Many of the things we're supposed to submit impact statements for lack meaningful narratives. In some cases, there is nothing but the particular statement the defendant allegedly violated and no story of who, what, when, where, why.

* Cyber gibberish. For dozens of entries, nothing comes up but "application error" and a number for tech support. If you call tech support, (612-673-3367) naturally they can't really do anything. They're quite aware of the messages popping up and there are rumors of the website being improved, revamped, something...but nothing on the front burner. So users will just have to continue to put up with the inconvenience.

* Thanks for ruining our morale before we even start. By checking the resolution of cases, one sees a glaring pattern of suspended sentences, $50 fines, and cases that are simply dismissed. And then we're expected to submit community impact statements? Judging by what we're seeing, most of these criminals will be out on the street the next day.

The most ardent public defender couldn't hope for better resolutions than what we're seeing handed down by the prosecutor. Is it any wonder our neighborhoods are going to hell in a hand basket?

* How do they get away with punching cops? I can hardly believe what I'm reading. Defendants smash cops in the face with a closed fist and get charged with obstructing public process, disorderly conduct, and penny-ante crap like that. Is it any wonder the police don't want to get out of their cars and aggressively check buildings where squatters get inside and crap in waterless toilets?

For the record, I am a bleeding heart liberal. I read "The Crime OF Punishment" in law school, which turned my whole world upside down, and I think all these criminals need therapy, drug treatment, access to job skill building, and good books to read.

But that doesn't mean I want to see criminals doing no time in jail and tossed right back out on the street again to do more bad stuff before they even go to court for their last crime. Looking deeply at the website which allows me to submit community impact statements, all I can say is WHAT. THE. HELL?

No comments: