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This Week in Civic Tech: California Launches Police Use-of-Force Database, Michigan Showcases Foster Care Analytics

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / September 22, 2016
Flickr/Thomas Hawk

This Week in Civic Tech presents a line-up of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers.

California DOJ Launches Police Use-of-Force Incident Reporting

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the California Department of Justice released a new police use-of-force data collection system that will gather law enforcement information from across the state and funnel it into a centralized repository.

The Web-based tool has been christened URSUS — which is named after the Grizzly Bear on the California state flag, not an acronym for the program. URSUS was developed under direction of state Attorney General Kamala Harris in partnership with the civic tech nonprofit Bayes Impact, an organization specializing in data science.

Now California law enforcement agencies and police departments can report and disseminate any incident that results in serious injury or death of officers and citizens, and avoid the arduous and inefficient paper forms. Further, the application is set to equip California’s roughly 800 police departments with a set of analytics tools to track data through interactive charts and pivot tables.

“As a country, we must engage in an honest, transparent and data-driven conversation about police use of force,” said Attorney General Harris. “I am proud that California continues to lead the nation in the adoption of technology and data to improve our criminal justice system and keep our streets safe.”

Further, Ursus is enhanced by a piece of state legislation that passed in 2015 that requires all agencies and police departments to provide annual reports of any use-of-force incident. Said another way, there is no allowance for law enforcement to opt out of the transparency effort. The law, Assembly Bill 71, is exacting in its specificity as well. Data will include, among other things, information about incidents involving civilians shot by officers, officers shot by citizens, and any incident where an interaction with police ends in a life-threatening injury.

“The first step toward fixing a problem is to fully understand it, and improving data collection will help us strengthen accountability and save lives on all sides," said California U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in a release. "I commend California Attorney Kamala Harris and everyone involved in this important project.”

Greater contextual data will add to this narrative with details about gender, race and age. Other statistical information records the incident date, time, location, number of parties involved, weapon types and whether a citizen was armed.

“At Bayes Impact, we believe technology combined with policy can be a powerful lever for making change, and in policing, that change begins with better data,” said Eric Liu, U.S. Executive Director of Bayes Impact. “Our collaboration with CalDOJ on the development and launch of URSUS is an important step in addressing this issue for both California and the country.”

The URSUS system could set a precedent for states and law enforcement agencies across the nation.

The White House has already launched its Police Data Initiative to accomplish similar goals throughout the country, and Boxer and New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker have co-sponsored a piece of legislation known as the Police Reporting Information, Data and Evidence Act of 2015 (PRIDE Act), a bill that, if passed, would apply many of the same reporting standards nationally.

“By using innovative technology and data to shed a spotlight on police practices that work and do not work, California’s AB 71 is an important precedent for the country,” Booker said.

TechWire, sister publication to Government Technology, reported that URSUS was developed in less than eight months with philanthropic funding through Bayes Impact. CalDOJ’s Bureau of Crime Information and Analysis worked with Bayes Impact to develop the Web-based application and the first data standards for police use of force.

The system was developed in agile, and is cloud-based and open source. By taking this approach, CalDOJ estimates it saved millions of dollars in development costs, TechWire reported, and helped local law enforcement agencies avoid having to build their own data collection systems.

A public demonstration of URSUS is available at

Michigan Unveils CareConnect360

On Sept. 21, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) pulled the curtains off of CareConnect360, the state’s newest care management platform that is equipped with analytics and a data warehouse that integrates information from a bevy of departments.

The architecture of CareConnect360 has been designed to not only improve state services, but also to turbo charge them in a way the state has never seen before. The platform, whose features are still being fine-tuned, boasts an impressive ability to give foster care, medical care and social services staff a comprehensive view of residents across multiple programs.

What that means in simple terms is that foster care workers can now place children faster and attend to them more responsively. Information-gathering tasks that might have taken a week for a single case can now be accomplished in a matter of key strokes. Populations on specific health-care plans and their health conditions can be compared to state averages and other plans in a matter of minutes, and social workers can prioritize high-need and high-risk cases for outreach and services.

Attending the IT Services Management Conference in Phoenix, Sept. 18-21, MDHHS Policy Director Meghan Vanderstelt and Optum Project Manager Jeanne McNeil said that among the many upgrades that 360CareConnect will receive, some include opening access to child welfare workers, integrating Michigan Juvenile Justice data (via the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System), adding a notification and alerts for tracking cases and trends, and inserting data about immunizations and long-term care history.

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Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.

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