Police Open Crime Data to Increase Trust with the Public

Today’s public has a complicated relationship with the police, but a little governance may simplify things yet.

In an attempt to increase trust with the public, Kentucky’s Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) recently opened three data sets: hate crimes, citations and assault on officer incidents. The release of a few data sets won’t change the world overnight, but the news represents one wave in a multicolored sea of police culture set to evolve in the coming years.

LMPD released these new data sets following attendance at the White House Roundtable on Technology and Data Innovations for Transparency and Accountability in Policing in May, where officials from 20 other cities met with the Office of Performance Improvement (OPI) and the Department of Information Technology (DOIT) to share information on what could be done to improve public relations in each of their communities.

Opening data is a way to increase public trust, said Brittany Suszan of SpotCrime.com, but there’s a lot of work left to be done on behalf of law enforcement.

“We’re hopeful the White House roundtable will be a giant step toward open crime data and transparency within police agencies nationwide, especially those who have notoriously been closed with crime data,” she said. “To our knowledge, there is currently no open crime data feed available for some of the agencies listed taking part in the roundtable.”

Crime data transparency is varied across the nation. A crime data transparency ranking published by SpotCrime demonstrates that this variation also illuminates the mercurial landscape of open data, as policies change and some data sets disappear under the umbrella of a proprietary vendor. In any event, data is only one piece of the federal government’s plan for improving police-public relations.

In May, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its final report (PDF), which recommended pursuit of six policy areas:

building trust and legitimacy
policy and oversight
technology and social media
community policing and crime reduction
officer training and education
officer safety and wellness

The bulk of the report is spent outlining specifically what police should do. For instance, “law enforcement agencies should be encouraged to collect, maintain and analyze demographic data on all detentions (stops, frisks, searches, summons and arrests).”

For technology recommendations, the report encourages the use of social media and the development of programs to create new nonlethal forms of controlling combative suspects, and lists the development of FirstNet — the nation’s prospective nationwide interoperability network for first responders — as a top priority.

The report’s guidance is informed by the organization’s seven meetings during January and February with diverse stakeholder groups that included members of the private sector, academia, local activists and law enforcement executives.

The White House report provides a detailed guide of things police can do to improve relations with the public, but suggestions alone do little. The future of policing will lie in the implementation of recommended policies undertaken — or not — by the leaders of each city.

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