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City of Philadelphia

 

Department of Records

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project

Final Report of Work Completed Under

 

 

 

 

Phase II

 

 

January-May 1998

 

Submitted to the

Pennsylvania Historical and Records Commission

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Grant Program FY 1997-1998

Archives & Records Management Grant No. ME710343

March 1999

 

City Archives of Philadelphia

3101 Market Street, Suite 150

Philadelphia, PA 19104-4709

Phone (215) 685-9401

FAX (215) 685-9409

http://phila.gov/phils/carchive.htm

I. Project Description

A. How did you promote the activities that the grant funded to the public?

This grant of $5,000 supported the second phase of a cooperative pilot project between the Department of Records, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to sample and rehouse criminal court records of Philadelphia County housed at the Philadelphia city records center. The project was promoted to the public in the following ways:

Stakeholders' Group

In 1997 the project convened an advisory group (see Appendix A) of court records administrators, archivists, state and local records officers, a statistician, and scholars of the history of crime to discuss the need for sampling and to share their suggestions with us. The group met again this past year to review the work of the sampling project. The group met in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators which was held in Philadelphia in July 1998. NAGARA members were invited to sit in on the stakeholders? meeting and approximately a dozen fellow records administrators from around the country took the opportunity to do so. The project thus gained increased visibility and exposure and project staff gained insight from experiences shared by those present. The project has benefited in the past year from the resulting exchanges with several individuals whose ideas have been especially helpful including Thomas G. Dibble, Vicinage Records Manager of the Superior Court of New Jersey, and Peter E. Schinkel, Retention Schedule Program Manager, Georgia Department of Archives and History, who presented a session on Project CRIME (Criminal Records and Information Management Enterprise) at the NAGARA meeting; John Daly of the Illinois State Archives; and Phil Costello, Archivist of the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk of Cook County, concerning Cook County?s program for sampling misdemeanor (municipal criminal) case files.

In early 1998 the project staff met with the administrator of the First Judicial District and staff of the court?s data processing unit to discuss ways to incorporate machine-readable data into the sampling process. In arranging this meeting we looked ahead to the future work of the project in relation to automation in recordkeeping. Up through and during 1968 the records of criminal cases in the First Judicial District included court dockets, docket indexes (alphabetical by name), bills of indictment, notes of testimony, and associated papers filed in cartons. After that year, the district converted the dockets onto a computer mainframe system. The court has continued to keep forms generated from the mainframe and notes of testimony as the record of each case but has ceased to produce a hard-copy version of the docket or docket index. The Records Department sought cooperation from the First Judicial District to allow project staff to access the court mainframe in order to do field searching to locate all charges of homicide or manslaughter and names of defendants in spectacular and notorious cases to expedite the work. The meeting enabled the project to work out a means for accessing computerized information on criminal case files for the post-1968 years and the court officials have been supportive in supplying data in a format which we can sort and query for the sampling of post-1968 records.

Dissemination of Findings and Sampling Methodology

Project staff presented the project methodology at the meeting of the stakeholders? group at NAGARA described above. On this occasion we distributed copies of the Phase I final report and discussed some of the issues which had been particularly problematic such as the designation of "spectacular and notorious cases." As we explained, we have amplified our original selection based on newspaper headline sources with types of charges identified in the docket indexes or by physical examination of the documents as being unique or significant.

The database inventory of sampled files for the years 1940-1948 will soon be available to researchers at the Philadelphia City Archives and on the Archives? website on the Philadelphia Information Locator Service (http://phila.gov/phils/phils.html). Additionally a descriptive guide to these records and the sampling methodology will also be made available at the Archives and on the PhILS site.

Publicity

The court records sampling project received favorable attention in the August 21-27, 1998, issue of the Philadelphia City Paper, a local weekly, in a feature story entitled "The Paper Chase" by reporter Gwen Shaffer, highlighting the Archives? attempts to cope with the problems of twentieth-century urban recordkeeping (see Appendix B). An online version of this article is available at the Philadelphia City Paper?s web site: http://www.cpcn.com/articles/082098/cover.shtml.

Exhibit

Project staff produced an exhibit, "Spectacular and Notorious Crimes of the 1940s" using documents identified in Philadelphia court record files for the open house held at the new Philadelphia Archives and Records Center at 3101 Market Street in late November 1998. The public was invited and approximately 200 city agency personnel and visitors were present for the occasion. The exhibit was presented in the display area of the new archives reading room and continues to be enjoyed by visitors at the Archives.

 

B. Describe the activities that the grant allowed the organization to undertake. List final work products.

Background

This grant enabled the Department of Records to implement the methodology for sampling criminal court records in Philadelphia County from 1940 to the present which was developed by project staff, records department personnel, court records officers, a statistical consultant, and specialists in the history of crime during a preceding PHMC-funded phase of the Criminal Court Records Sampling Project from May 1997-January 1998. The methodology, as outlined in the Phase I final project report submitted to PHMC in June 1998 (Project #ME61034P), provides a systematic means for selecting a sample of criminal case file records from the voluminous quantity of material generated by the criminal justice system in increasing bulk in recent decades, to retain for permanent preservation after the completion of retention requirements.

The purpose of instituting the sampling effort was to reduce the total volume of the County?s court records in order to make it feasible to use these records for research, to facilitate their preservation, and to reduce storage costs. Bills of indictment and notes of testimony were targeted as the major bodies of non-permanent criminal records that could be better managed as the result of a systematically instituted sampling program. At the beginning of the project, the City Records Center held 19,496 cubic feet of bills of indictment and notes of testimony from criminal proceedings from 1866 to 1986. The City Archives determined that the criminal court records before 1940 were sufficiently manageable in terms of volume to permit a 100 percent retention of the pre-1940 files and that sampling should focus on the years from 1940 to 1986 which consisted of 18,461 cubic feet or 95 percent of the total cubic-foot bulk of all bills and notes of testimony, 1866-1986. Various sampling models were identified and evaluated. Estimates indicated that the selected sampling model which included a random sample of all criminal charges, spectacular and notorious cases, and records pertaining to charges of homicide and manslaughter (records pertaining to homicide cases must be retained permanently as mandated by the Pennsylvania County Records Manual) would produce an estimated 85 percent reduction in bulk in sampled files (1940-1986) from the original total of 18,461 cubic feet for these years to 2,582 cubic feet by the time all the records reached the end of their retention period. The selected method also satisfied concerns of the project advisory board regarding statistically appropriate methods for sampling case files involving single and multiple charges and single and multiple defendants. The character of the files was such that we had to devise a technique for identifying clusters of related bills of indictment before conducting a random sample to ensure that each of these clusters would have an equal likelihood of being selected in the sampling procedure. Staff drew up a workplan for identifying, retrieving, and segregating selected files for permanent preservation beyond the close of the retention period; conducted outreach to familiarize the public with the project; and recruited and trained volunteers to assist the project archivist using written guidelines which we have developed in order to ensure uniformity in the results of the sampling.

Project Narrative, January-May 1998

The recently completed $5,000 implementation grant enabled the Department of Records to employ Gail E. Farr, M.A., C.A., the project archivist for the Phase I grant, to direct the sampling program from January through June 1998. With the assistance of volunteers and interns working in the City Records Center, the project succeeded in identifying, segregating, and producing a database inventory of bills of indictment and accompanying notes of testimony selected for permanent retention. Specifically, the project has completed sampling and segregation of bills of indictment and notes of testimony for the years from 1940 to 1948 and produced a machine-readable database of the material selected in the sample, which has been reboxed and transferred to the City Archives for permanent preservation and use. Approximately 97 cubic feet of sampled bills of indictment and notes of testimony for 1940-1948 have been accessioned into the City Archives for permanent retention. Simultaneously, the project has also identified and segregated bills of indictment and notes of testimony for the years from 1940 to 1948 which have not been selected for permanent retention. These total 242 cubic feet of material of the original 340 cubic foot total, representing a 71 percent reduction in bulk. These latter materials have satisfied their fifty-year retention requirement and will be disposed of in 1999. (See Appendix C ).

As might be anticipated in a project of this scale, the work is taking somewhat longer than expected. Originally we had projected that we would be able to complete the segregation of sampled files for the years 1940-1958 in Phase I and complete the segregation of sampled files for the years 1959-1986 in Phase II. One reason for this divergence from the original workplan is that we postponed the physical file segregation in order to build a variety of computer applications to support the sampling. The most important of these was a software tool for generating random number tables. The application randomly selects a percentage of crimes which occurred in designated months using numbers associated with the corresponding documents and supplies a printout of these numbers which we use in retrieving the files to represent a cross-section of crimes occurring in Philadelphia at any given time. The random number generator is a Microsoft Excel 97 application which was created with assistance from technical support staff at Public Systems, Inc.

The other major computer application developed for the project has been the database of information about files selected for permanent retention. The database is important for several reasons. First, it provides a machine-readable means of accessing criminal court records in Philadelphia for the years prior to 1968. The only other retrieval tool is the handwritten docket index volumes of names of defendants which are unwieldy to use. The sampling project database is searchable on a variety of fields including name of defendant, bill of indictment number(s), date, alias, and charge. It also links names of co-defendants in a case. Second, the database provided a means for organizing and storing information about cases identified for sampling which made it easier to get the work done using part-time and unpaid help. Identification on homicides and spectacular and notorious cases was gleaned from a variety of sources including the docket index, newspapers, annual reports of the district attorney?s office, police detective files, and through references to associated cases appearing on the documents themselves. Volunteers interested in assisting with this work included a retired nurse, a retired Philadelphia medical examiner, a freelance author who writes on organized crime, an undergraduate student intern, and a history Ph.D. candidate who gave generously of their time and expertise. It took project staff and volunteers working at different times to survey the sources throughout Phases I and II and collect the information on datasheets which were then used to input the data into a database. Thus, although the collection of background information extended over many months, the use of the database allowed us to work from a printout and retrieve all the selected files for a given year (randomly selected cases, spectacular cases, and the cases of homicide or manslaughter] at one time. Advance planning and organization for the file segregation have been critical to the progress of our work. The number of boxes for a given year runs from 40 to 60 cubic feet or more and the boxes are not easily retrieved in toto more than once. The database is a Microsoft Access 97 application.

The implementation of the sampling model for 1940-1948 resulted in a 71 percent reduction in bulk for these years. This represents a somewhat larger sample of retained records than originally intended: initially, we had sought an 85 percent reduction in bulk. The difference between the anticipated and the actual results is primarily due to the large size of the case files for homicide and manslaughter cases. Project staff found that homicide cases tend to have the larger files because they usually went to trial which produced testimony; moreover, they were cases that were often appealed. The only way we could have kept to the original 85 percent bulk reduction estimate would have been to reduce the number of spectacular and notorious or randomly-selected cases in the sample. Such a modification would have altered the sampling model which we generally believed to be sound.

List of Final Work Products Completed by the Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project from January-May 1998

  • Completion of sampling of bills of indictment and notes of testimony selected for permanent retention, 1940-1948 (See Appendix C)
  • Completion of a database inventory of sampled files, 1940-1948
  • Creation of a software tool for selecting a random sample for retention
  • Accession of bills of indictment and notes of testimony segregated for permanent retention into the City Archives (97 cu. ft., 1940-1948)
  • Segregation of bills of indictment and notes of testimony from 1940-1948 not selected for the sample. This totals 242 cu. ft. of records or a 71 percent reduction in bulk. These files have satisfied their 50-year retention requirement and will be disposed of in 1999
  • Devised a means for importing data into the database from the computerized dockets introduced in the First Judicial District in 1968 using data file reports from the dockets supplied by court data processing staff.

C. How did the community benefit?

Two years ago, the City Records Center housed nearly 20,000 cubic feet of bills of indictment dating from 1838 to 1986, nearly three-fourths (18,461 cubic feet) of which dated from 1940. Only a small amount of this material--files pertaining to first- and second-degree murder--had a state-mandated permanent retention requirement, but there was no means of segregating material pertaining to homicides occurring prior to 1968 except through a handwritten index of defendants? names. Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the Department of Records would be able to develop a systematic strategy for identifying any other kinds of files which might merit permanent preservation because of their documentary and research value unless we undertook a systematic program initiative focusing on modern criminal records and their users. PHMC project funding has enabled us to address these needs through the preceding planning phase and the more recently completed implementation phase described above.

 

Appendices

Appendix A: Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project Advisory Group

Appendix B: Philadelphia City Paper, "The Paper Chase"

Appendix C: Report of Reduction in Bulk for Sampled Years

Appendix A:

Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project Advisory Group

Len Armstrong, Deputy Dir., Active Criminal Records, Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Justice Center-2nd Floor, 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Ron Avery*, Staff Writer, Philadelphia Daily News, 400 N. Broad Street, P.O. Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101

Elizabeth Bouvier, Head of Archives, Supreme Judicial Court, Archives & Records Preservation, 1300 New Court House, Boston, MA 02108

Ward Childs, City Archivist, Philadelphia Department of Records-Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

John DiCrosta, Manager, Records Center, Philadelphia Department of Records, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Gail E. Farr, Project Archivist, Criminal Court Records Sampling Project, Philadelphia Department of Records-Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Professor Mark Haller, Dept. of History, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122

Claude Harrison, Liaison Director-Clerk of Quarter Sessions, Criminal Justice Center, Room 310, 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Susan Hartman, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108

Lee Kaplan, Assistant District Attorney, 1421 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Karol Krotki, PhD (Statistical Consultant), Education Statistics Services Institute, H: 2001 N. Adams, #728, Arlington, VA 22201

Roger Lane, Professor of History, Haverford College, Haverford, PA 19041

Joseph Lanzalotti, Director, Active Criminal Records, Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Justice Center, 2d Floor, 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Lisa Levenstein*, PhD Candidate, Dept. of History, University of Wisconsin, H: 20 St. Patrick's Street,#1205, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 2Y4 M5T

William R. Meltzer, PhD Candidate, Dept. of History, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122

Jefferson Moak, Philadelphia Department of Records-Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Celeste A. Morello*, 1234 S. Sheridan Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147-4820

David Weinberg, Deputy Commissioner of Records, 162A City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107

*Joined after January 1998

Appendix B: Philadelphia City Paper, "The Paper Chase"

The court records sampling project received favorable attention in the August 21-27, 1998, issue of the Philadelphia City Paper, a local weekly, in a feature story entitled "The Paper Chase" by reporter Gwen Shaffer, highlighting the Archives? attempts to cope with the problems of twentieth-century urban recordkeeping. An online version of this article is available at the City Paper?s URL: http://www.cpcn.com/articles/082098/cover.shtml.

Appendix C

Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project

Report of Reduction in Bulk for Sampled Years, 1940-1948

Measured In Cubic Feet Units

Bills of Indictment

Notes of Testimony

Total # Boxes

Total Reduction

% Reduction

Year

Before

After

Before

After

Before

After

in Bulk (cu. ft.)

in Bulk

1940

13

3.0

30

10.0

43

13.0

30.0

70%

1941

12

2.0

26

5.5

38

7.5

30.5

80%

1942

11

3.5

26

5.0

37

8.5

28.5

77%

1943

13

2.5

21

3.5

34

6.0

28.0

82%

1944

9

3.0

22

9.0

31

6.5

24.5

79%

1945

9

2.0

22

5.5

31

7.5

23.5

76%

1946

11

3.0

30

12.0

41

15.0

26.0

63%

1947

12

3.0

31

9.0

43

12.0

31.0

72%

1948

14

4.0

28

12.0

42

16.0

26.0

62%

Totals

104

26.0

236

71.5

340

97.5

242.5

71%

Philadelphia Criminal Court Records Sampling Project, Phase II (Jan-May 1998), Final Report, Appendix C

Philadephia Department of Records