Dismissed charges, repeat offenders and a revealing look at New Jersey's new "Criminal Justice Data Dashboard"

Dismissed charges, repeat offenders and a revealing look at New Jersey's new "Criminal Justice Data Dashboard"
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I got an email from my buddy and Bearing Arms contributor John Petrolino last night letting me know about Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s unveiling of New Jersey’s new “Criminal Justice Data Dashboard”, which Platkin proclaims is the “first comprehensive data warehouse visualizing de-identified information on arrests in New Jersey from 2017 to 2022, including warrants, charges, dispositions, restitution, and fines, as well as demographic data.”

Given New Jersey’s draconian gun laws I thought it would be interesting to crunch some numbers, and what I found is utterly devastating to the arguments of Garden State anti-gunners that what we need are more gun control laws in place. Instead, what the data shows is that repeat offenders are driving crime in the state, while prosecutors are dismissing far more weapons-related cases than they’re taking to trial.

One thing I should note right up front, however, is that while I’ll be referring to the data on the new dashboard, I’m not particularly confident in any of the numbers that the state has come up with. The very first thing I took a look at on the dashboard website was the number of first-time offenders versus repeat offenders in the state between 2017 and 2022, and I almost immediately noted a problem: the numbers don’t add up.

According to that topline number, there were about twice as many first-time offenders than repeaters over the past five years, but when you break down the number of arrests year-by-year you get a very different result. Here’s 2017:

As you can see, it’s a roughly 50/50 split between first-timers and repeaters. In 2018, according to the data dashboard, repeat offenders actually outnumbered first-time offenders by several thousand.

When you use the dashboard to combine the data for both 2017 and 2018, however, there’s a problem. According to the single-year statistics, there should be 95,132 arrests of first-timer offenders and 100,913 repeat offenders, but that’s not what the dashboard shows.

The dashboard has the correct number of first-timers, but for whatever reason the data is now missing over 20,000 repeat offenders. The discrepancy is even larger when all six years of data are combined. Instead of 237,610 first time offenders and 263,548 repeat offenders, which is the total of the single-year statistics added up individually, the dashboard misses more than 150,000 repeat offender arrests.

This is such a glaring error that it calls into question the entirety of the data on the dashboard as well as presenting a false portrait of who, exactly is driving crime in the Garden State. A cursory examination of the data makes it seem like first-time offenders are far more common that repeaters, but a deeper dive shows the exact opposite.

I honestly don’t know how much stock to put into the other statistic I examined, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that they’re correct. According to the data, individuals arrested for “weapons offenses” in New Jersey are far more likely to have their cases dropped than be convicted or take a guilty plea.

Let’s ignore the cases that still have a pending outcome and focus on the number of defendants who were found/pled guilty versus those who saw their charges dismissed outright. There are more than twice as many dismissed cases as there are successful prosecutions, which raises all kinds of questions, starting with why so many of these cases dismissed and whether or not they should have resulted in an arrest in the first place. But the data also shows that while New Jersey Democrats like Gov. Phil Murphy are demanding more laws aimed directly at responsible gun owners, the state is failing to enforce the laws already on the books; both the dubious and flagrantly unconstitutional gun control provisions as well as violent crimes like robbery:

And assault/threat/stalkings:

Again, I’m not sure how much to trust any of these statistics given the errors in the number of first-time and repeat arrests, but if we’re going to take the data at face value then its evident that the state has some serious issues with prosecutions. Again, why are so many cases being dismissed? Soft-on-crime prosecutors? Evidentiary issues? Wrongful arrests? The data doesn’t tell us where the problem lies, but if the figures are accurate they tell us that there is a big problem in the state’s criminal justice system, and one that gun control can’t fix or even touch.

Of course, that’s a big “if”. I’ve reached out to Platkin’s office to let them know of the discrepancy in the data on repeat vs. first time offenders and to inquire as to why those numbers are so different when you look at single-year statistics compared to the six-year summary, and I’ll let you know what, if anything, his office has to say. Based on the data that’s available, however, it’s pretty clear that New Jersey isn’t prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law, which makes their targeting of responsible gun owners and their right to keep and bear arms even more egregiously off-base when it comes to public safety.