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A Radical Approach to Open Police Data

PATF_Final_Report_Executive_Summary_4_13_16On page 112 of the report of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve“, there is a section about the publication of police data that might change the way we think about “crime data” in the #opengov and #civictech movement.

In the section on Early Intervention & Personnel Concerns, the main recommendation for this area is that the Chicago Police Department embark on the “design and implementation of a mandatory EIS that centrally collects data across a broad range of data points to capture information on the totality of officer activity”. This kind of system is typically called an “Early Intervention System”, or EIS.

But later in this section is a recommendation that is near and dear to my heart (disclosure: I served on the Early Intervention & Personnel Concerns Working Group for the Task Force).

Here’s the nub:

publish, on a monthly basis, aggregate data on the following: new and pending complaints by unit, disciplinary actions, missed court dates, new civil legal proceedings against officers, new criminal legal proceedings against officers, vehicle pursuits, vehicle collisions, uses of force, employee commendations, use of firearms, injuries to persons in custody, judicial proceedings where an officer is the subjective of a protective or restraining order, adverse judicial credibility determinations against an officer, or disciplinary actions.

In the civic tech world, “crime data” has always been understood to be about crime reports. I myself have helped make websites, like EveryBlock, that use “crime data” of this kind.

I’ve come to believe, however, that this focus has led to a deeply skewed vision of “crime” and a dangerously incomplete view of how people can work together to improve communities around public safety data.

That was the impetus of the Crime & Punishment in Chicago project of Smart Chicago. It is an index of data sources surrounding the criminal justice system as it is in Chicago— going beyond crime reports and tracking the true corpus of data that relates to crime.

But this information referenced by the Task Force is a new idea altogether. The idea is that in order to have a view of safety in a community, one has to have a view of data on how the police treat residents.

Even in aggregate format, having the police report on how many times a gun was used by an officer, or a judge ruled that an officer lied in court, or the number of times a police car was involved in a crash, can be a breakthrough in getting us to see things differently.

It’s a start in thinking that we’re all in this together— victims, police, offenders, family. That we have to measure and care about and report on all aspects of safety— not just the crime reports that officers decide to create.

More to come.

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Here’s the complete section, for reference:

The EIS program should include community outreach efforts by providing public access to data generated by the EIS program and inviting community stakeholders to CompStat-type meetings to discuss EIS data and outcomes.

With all of the data that will be generated by the EIS program at its disposal, it is incumbent on CPD to make important information about its officers available to the public. As in many of the areas the Task Force examined, transparency into its non-disciplinary intervention programs and the data it collects surrounding the performance of its police officers is essentially nonexistent. Although there are important privacy restrictions to keep in mind as it pertains to sensitive personnel matters, much of the information that CPD currently collects, and the information that we recommend it collects in the future, is information that can be made public.

In order to provide the community with this important data, the Task Force recommends that CPD publish, on a monthly basis, aggregate data on the following: new and pending complaints by unit, disciplinary actions, missed court dates, new civil legal proceedings against officers, new criminal legal proceedings against officers, vehicle pursuits, vehicle collisions, uses of force, employee commendations, use of firearms, injuries to persons in custody, judicial proceedings where an officer is the subjective of a protective or restraining order, adverse judicial credibility determinations against an officer, or disciplinary actions.

Moreover, additional steps must be taken to reach out to community stakeholders in a real and meaningful way about police interventions. As many thought leaders on the topic have explored, early intervention is consistent with the goals of community policy and can be another avenue to help improve community-police relations. In Detroit, for example, the police department’s consent decree with the Department of Justice included recommendations for increased community outreach. In response, the Detroit Police Department instituted quarterly meetings with community members to discuss performance issues, providing scorecards for units that outlined the number of officers trained, the number of officers that missed training and the number of use-offorce incidents, among other indicators. The meetings include an opportunity for questions from the community audience. The Task Force recommends that CPD establish a similar regular community-inclusive meeting to share data and insights from EIS.