President Launches Police Data Initiative

On the tail end of riots, protests and public disquiet surrounding police conduct, the president announced a new program that pits data against one of America's hottest issues.

by / May 18, 2015
Police departments participating in the White House Police Data Initiative shown above. Whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama visited the country's most dangerous city on May 18 to talk about how new efforts around data and technology can improve policing.

Camden, N.J., is one of 21 cities participating in a new program called the Police Data Initiative, the goals of which are to use open data to build community trust and foster innovation while building new technological tools that increase police accountability, decrease police brutality and identify problems that technology can help solve.

The 21 participating cities promised to collectively release 101 sensitive datasets to the public centered around topics like use of force, vehicle and pedestrian stops, and officer-involved shootings. Code for America (CfA) is assisting police departments in the release of their data and published a recent blog post with tips on how to approach police open data. CfA is also working with CI Technologies to build an open source tool that streamlines the process of opening data so that the more than 500 American law enforcement agencies using IAPro police integrity software can work more efficiently.

The initiative also vows to make police data easier to use. The Police Foundation and GIS giant Esri are building an open data portal that the White House says will make police data easily accessible for law enforcement, community groups and researchers.

Open data firm Socrata is serving as a technical consultant to cities that are working toward police data transparency, while communities around the nation are launching data hackathons to tackle the problem. In New Orleans, nonprofit Operation Spark will use data provided by the New Orleans Police Department as part of a weeklong code academy. 

In an effort to improve internal accountability in police departments, the initiative is also promoting the deployment of early warning systems that can identify patterns of abuse or misconduct among police officers. The University of Chicago will work with several police departments in a 14-week project starting in late May that seeks to develop a data analysis tool to identify patterns characteristic of police misconduct.

These efforts and many others are all part of the Police Data Initiative and follow the lead of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a larger program launched by Obama last year that is designed to mend and strengthen the relationship between the public and the nation’s police force.

The Police Data Initiative is accompanied by a recent executive order that will prohibit federal agencies from providing police departments with military equipment like grenade launchers, bayonets, armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and high-caliber weapons.

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