How do we improve open data for police accountability?


at the SunLight Foundation: “This is a challenging time for people who worry about the fairness of American governmental institutions. In quick succession, grand juries declined to indict two police officers accused of killing black men. In the case of Ferguson, Mo. officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury’s decision appeared to center on uncertainty about whether Wilson’s action was legal and whether he killed under threat. In the case of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo’s killing of Eric Garner, however, a bystander recorded and made public a video of the police officer causing Garner’s death through an illegal chokehold. In Pantaleo’s case, the availability of video data has made the question about institutional fairness even more urgent, as people can see for themselves the context in which the officer exercised power. The data has given us a common set of facts to use in judging police behavior.
We grant law enforcement and corrections departments the right to exercise more physical power over the public than we do to any other part of our government. But do we generally have the data we need to evaluate how they’re using it?….
The time to find good solutions to these problems is now. Responding to widespread frustration, President Obama has just announced a three-part initiative to “strengthen community policing”: an increased focus on transparency and oversight for federal-to-local transfers of military equipment, a proposal to provide matching funding to local police departments to buy body cameras, and a “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” that will make recommendations for how to implement community-oriented policing practices.
While each element of Obama’s initiative corresponds to a distinct set of concerns about policing, one element they share in common is the need to increase access to information about police work. Each of the three approaches will rely on mechanisms to increase the flow of public information about what police officers are doing in their official roles and how they are doing it. How are police officers going about fulfilling their responsibility to ensure public safety? Are they working in ways that appropriately respect individual rights? Are they responsive to public concerns, when concerns are raised?
By encouraging the collection and publication of more data about how government is working, Obama’s initiative has the potential to support precisely the kind of increase in data availability that can transform public outcomes. When applied with the intent to improve transparency and accountability and to increase public engagement, open data — and the civic tech that uses this data — can bridge the often too-large gap between the public and government.
However, because Obama’s initiatives depend on the effective collection, publication, and communication of information, open data advocates have a particular contribution to make. It’s important to think about what lessons we can apply from our experiences with open data — and with data collected and used for police accountability — in order to ensure that this initiative has the greatest possible impact. As an open data and open government community, can we make recommendations that can help improve the data we’re collecting for police transparency and accountability?
I’m going to begin a list, but it’s just a beginning – I am certain that you have many more recommendations to make. I’ll categorize them first by Obama’s “Strengthening Community Policing” initiatives and then keep thinking about what additional data is needed. Please think along with me about what kind of datasets we will need, what potential issues with data availability and quality we’re likely to see, what kind of laws may need to be changed to improve access to the data necessary for police accountability, then make your recommendations in the Google Doc embedded at the end of this post. If you’ve seen any great projects you’ve seen which improve police transparency and accountability, be sure to share those as well….”

One Reply to “How do we improve open data for police accountability?”

Comments are closed.