Homicide Watch D.C., an online reporting project documenting homicides in the District of Columbia, needs help creating an online library of court documents.The project, currently in its third month, builds a public forum incorporating news coverage, social media, obituaries and online memorials, photo galleries, court documents and original reporting around each killing in the District. We are doing this because we believe that every murder, every victim, and every suspect deserve more than a two-inch news brief rewriting a press release. That the circumstances of each crime and each life matter. And that we as a community can better fight violent crime when armed with a more complete understanding of what is happening and why.
We also believe, when it comes to the prosecution of a murder, that news coverage in murder cases should not jump from arraignment to sentencing, but should strive to involve the community in discussion and conversation from start to finish. We can help start that process by reducing barriers to public information, particularly court records like arrest warrants and criminal complaints.
Court records for all cases are available to the public by visiting the Superior Court, but the time it takes to visit the courthouse and skills needed to use the computer system can prevent the valuable information available from being more widely distributed. Homicide Watch D.C. wants to do the legwork and get those documents out in the open.
Over the course of this project, we will commit to obtaining all court records for current homicide cases in the District and publishing them with Document Cloud, making searchable digital copies widely available. This puts primary source information straight into the public's hands, prompting more complex conversations about violent crimes in the District.
As a secondary benefit, publishing the court documents also helps reporters with Homicide Watch D.C. and other publications by creating a full and accessible library of documents that can be used as reporting resources on individual cases and when investigating wider trends.
Over the length of the reporting project, HWDC will track the cases, find the documents, save them as PDFs, and embed them in an online library on HWDC using Document Cloud. The documents will be available for all public uses including journalists following cases and community members seeking more information on specific crimes. The library will be searchable by victim name and defendant name, as well as by other search criteria including weapon type and address. Particularly valuable, and likely popular, will be affidavits with crime narratives that directly answer the question of “what happened?”