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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of legal experts is about to take a deep-dive look into the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
The district attorney's office announced Wednesday that it has been chosen among a nationwide list of applicants to be the sole participant in the Elevating Trust and Legitimacy for Prosecutors Project.
"We're really excited about this," District Attorney Sim Gill said. "I'm speechless because, one, we were chosen out of all the offices in the country, and, two, we get to pursue what we've always wanted to do."
The pilot program is aimed at helping prosecutors build legitimacy and trust within their communities. Over the next 15 months, representatives from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Yale Law School's Justice Collaboratory and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, will be taking a look at how decisions are made at the district attorney's office by talking to everyone from the receptionist to Gill himself.
"Our team agreed that Salt Lake County is the best fit for this pilot project because it is primed to embrace the concept and practice of procedural justice," David LaBahn, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "We believe their office has significant opportunities to implement changes agencywide and make significant changes within their community."
The research will include looking at cases over at least the past two years, including ones that were dismissed as well as ones that Gill's office filed charges on and what the outcomes of those cases were. It will also look at how prosecutors interacted with everyone from witnesses to defendants to the victims in those cases. And researchers will be interviewing groups outside the district attorney's office to collect their thoughts on how the office serves the public.
Our goal is to do that deep dive in a self-critical way, and you can do so without shame or blame and with an eye to finding solutions.
–Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill
The project is rooted in the theory of procedural justice, an evidence-based practice that focuses on the way police and other legal authorities interact with the public and how people's perception of those interactions shape their views of the police and the criminal justice system, according to a prepared statement.
"This is really about transitioning research into policy and practice," Gill said. "They're looking at neutrality in decision-making, and if it's unbiased and supported by reasoning."
He added that meaningful reform does not mean compromising public safety.
Gill, who has long advocated for transparency in his office, welcomes the review with open arms in a continuing effort to develop trust with the community. If his prosecutors say they have good intentions in their decision-making, Gill said he wants to make sure they're delivering on that promise.
"Our goal is to do that deep dive in a self-critical way, and you can do so without shame or blame and with an eye to finding solutions," he said.
At the end of 15 months, researchers will deliver their final report, which will be public, about what is working at the district attorney's office and what is not. The project will also list recommendations for improvement, which Gill said will be research- and evidence-based best practices.
Gill believes that by the end of the evaluation, his office will serve as a model for other prosecuting offices across the country.
Correction: The Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, not mentioned in the original story, is also part of the project.