Despite being one of the largest government institutions in the region, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department is something of a mystery to most residents.

On one level, that’s a good thing; most of us would consider ourselves lucky if we lived our lives without ever becoming a guest of the department, or otherwise needing its services. But as citizens, it is important to know what the department does, how well it does it, and how it spends our money.

So we count the recent release of the department’s first-ever annual report as a step forward for openness and accountability.

The 89-page report covers a lot of ground. There are specifics on the inner workings of the department’s three correctional facilities, deep dives into job descriptions and responsibilities and an assessment of the department-run emergency communications center. There are also statistics detailing the department’s 2018 recidivism rate (45.78 percent), number of inmates processed (8,447), DNA samples provided to the state crime lab (351) and even inmate weddings (2).

Other sections shed light on programs ranging from drug treatment to work release to career training.

“I am particularly proud of the work our staff has already accomplished not only in the area of improved security and safety procedures but also with the wide variety of inmate services we provide, especially in the areas of treatment, rehabilitation, and re-entry back into the communities,” said Sheriff Kevin Coppinger, who was sworn in in 2017.

While the report is impressive in its scope and depth, it should be noted that it is only the first step toward a new era of transparency in the sheriff’s department. Next year’s report, presumably, will have an updated set of numbers that will allow citizens to track progress on issues such as drug treatment and recidivism.

You can view the report at https://www.essexsheriffma.org