What’s New in Civic Tech: Where Are the Code for America Brigades Headed in 2018?

Plus, San Jose PD puts use-of-force data online; San Antonio seeks tech participants for its new CivTechSA program; NYU Tandon and NYC Cyber Command launch a new cybersecurity master’s program; and Outreach Grid launches free tools for cities.

by / January 11, 2018
Code for America

Code for America has reaffirmed its commitment to its network of brigades, doing so with a medium post that details how and why the groups will be so important in the coming year.

The Code for America Brigade Network is a national alliance made up of community organizers, developers and designers across the country. Member groups use tech and tech-based projects in service of the communities in which they are located. The idea is that government can be improved by people who live in communities in order to enhance quality of life, and much has been made of this brigade program’s future since a fundraising setback in 2016 resulted in restructuring.

Code for America’s medium post, however, makes clear that the brigades will be a big part of its work and mission in 2018.

“2018 is going to be a big year for the network that we’ve built together,” the group wrote in its post. “Brigades are where we as a community can make the country work for all its people. Achieving the vision of a government fit for the digital age is only possible with significant investment and commitment to cities, communities and networked localism through the brigades.”

The post also runs down a list of recent brigade accomplishments, noting that they have made an impact in places ranging from Asheville, N.C., to Tulsa, Okla. The post also looked back at the significance of 2017 for Code for America, describing the outgoing year as one of “progress and of laying down the groundwork for impact over the next five years.”

San Jose Police Department puts use-of-force data online

The San Jose Police Department has launched a public Web portal that allows users to access data about officer use of force, making San Jose, Calif., the largest city in the country to put such information online.

The police department built this platform in collaboration with Police Strategies LLC, attributing it to ongoing efforts to make its work more transparent and also to improve relations between the police and the community they serve. The launch of the public-facing website also fits into a larger shift within the department toward data-driven decision-making, according to a press release announcing the creation of the portal

The portal, in fact, “provides a comprehensive risk management tool that can be used to make data-driven decisions and develop evidence-based best practices,” police officials wrote in the release. “The system can also be used to examine racial disparity issues providing meaningful insights for the community and actionable results for the department.”

The launch of the portal and the police department expressing a desire to move toward data-driven decisions fits into a larger trend taking place nationwide: public safety agencies are beginning to embrace analytics as a route to making improvements. The Tuscon Police Department recently created a new position for a crime analyst that would use the practice, while the Philadelphia Fire Department moved to hire a senior lead GIS analyst to help create an analytics team in that city, noting that it “is moving toward increasing its use of data in day-to-day operations, and GIS and analytics will be a large part of this initiative.”

San Antonio releases list of challenges for its STiR-esque CivTechSA program

San Antonio has released a list of seven challenges for its new CivTechSA program, a variation of the San Francisco-born Startup in Residence Program (STiR) that has now gone nationwide.

Both STiR and CivTechSA seek to bridge the gap between startup companies and city government by embedding technologists and entrepreneurs within public agencies and having them work on municipal problems. In a recent post on LinkedIn, organizers of CivTechSA announced that the city had defined the problems and ideal solutions that it would like participants to tackle.

The list included projects to serve the city’s animal car services department, airport, public transit, downtown event-hosting spaces, economic development agencies, department of health and human services and solid waste management department. The challenges and ideal solutions were as varied as the agencies and systems in need of help. Anyone interested in participating or obtaining more information can email the organizers at civtechsa@geekdom.com.

As with the STiR program, applicants will be selected to collaborate with these agencies over a 16-week period, giving the technologists invaluable insight into how to work with and sell to government, and giving the government agencies projects that can help them in overcoming long-standing obstacles. The primary difference between CivTechSA and STiR is that it is designed for cities like San Antonio that have a less mature startup ecosystem, a situation it aims to overcome by fostering student participation as well.

NYU Tandon and NYC Cyber Command launch a new cybersecurity master’s program

New York City is now home to a cybersecurity master’s degree program, launched as a joint effort between New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering and New York City Cyber Command.

This program, dubbed the New York Cyber Fellows, is an online initiative created in conjunction with leading employers within New York City, aiming to alleviate an acute shortage of highly-trained cybersecurity professionals that has become an increasingly relevant problem for both the jurisdiction and the rest of the nation. The program will also help answer the call issued by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose New York Works initiative seeks to add 10,000 cybersecurity experts to the city’s workforce within a decade.

The program offers scholarships that cover as much as 75 percent of tuition for U.S. residents, thereby bringing the total tuition of the program to $15,000, which makes it the lowest of any cybersecurity program in New York City.

“A more affordable degree in this field means more New Yorkers will develop the skills to defend our digital city and land a great job. We’re proud to work in partnership with NYU’s Tandon School to launch the program this fall and I encourage New Yorkers to apply now,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press release announcing the program. “This is exactly the kind of program New York needs to attract companies in this fast-growing sector, and to help New Yorkers compete for those good jobs.”

Applications are open now and the deadline to apply for the upcoming fall semester is May 1.

Makers of Outreach Grid launch set of free tools for cities

Appledore Inc., the makers of a homeless information management platform aimed at municipal governments, has created a set of free online tools for cities.

These tools are available on the website for the information management platform, which is called Outreach Grid. Outreach Grid was developed as part of the Startup in Residence program, and its developers worked with West Sacramento. These new tools for cities are largely designed to be used by public servants who work with the homeless, much as Outreach Grid is. They include client self-report tools and point-in-time count tools, which would allow homeless service organizations to conduct counts of the population in their jurisdiction digitally as well as to coordinate outreach efforts and data via mobile devices.

“We wanted to empower organizations to coordinate a high-level understanding of homelessness in their cities,” said Appledore Inc. co-founder Tiffany Pang in a press release. “Given how important this work is and how few resources there are aimed at addressing the coordination of homelessness efforts, we decided to make our entry level tools freely available to all.”

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.