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USC Launches New Neighborhood Crime Data Initiative

The University of Southern California’s new data project will show how neighborhood crime in Los Angeles intersects with other policy areas like homelessness and housing, education, economic development, and jobs.

The University of Southern California is launching a data project to show the public how neighborhood crime in Los Angeles intersects with other policy areas like homelessness, housing, education, economic development, and jobs.

The Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) initiative, which will take place over the course of a year, is the work of the USC Price Center for Social Innovation, a group that focuses on policy solutions to improve standard of living for low-income urban communities. Also collaborating on the project are Microsoft and the USC Safe Communities Institute. 

The project will see NDSC working with regional law enforcement agencies to share a select number of crime data sets with the public — things like police incidents of force, citizen complaints, rates of arrest and police officer turnover rates. This data, which will illustrate trends in select regional communities, will be publicly viewable on the NDSC's platform

At the same time, the NDSC will be working together with the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and the Microsoft Cities Team on “Catalyzing Community Criminal Justice Reform with Data,” an initiative to analyze how crime data can be used towards implementing better police practices. 

The NDSC will also host a number of community events designed to stir public discourse around the issues involved. The first of those took place this week, with USC hosting a panel discussion on the topics of policy, data and law enforcement.

"Without data, you're just another person with an opinion," said Dr. Erroll Southers, director of the Safe Communities Institute, who moderated Wednesday's event. Southers, who previously worked in the California Office of Homeland Security and as a special agent with the FBI, asked participants to consider how data is used to inform policymaking. 

Joumana Silyan-Saba, who manages Commissions and Community Engagement for the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department, said that data could be valuable not just for law enforcement purposes, but to better understand how to promote services that create healthier communities with less crime. This requires redefining what public safety means, she said. 

"Thinking about public safety in terms of peace building, social cohesion, also in terms of well being of communities; building healthy communities of families and individuals," she said. "These are all measures and matrixes that we could think around that all then contributes to increasing public safety."  

This means looking at public-sector service delivery, said Fernando Rejón, the executive director of the Urban Peace Institute. "At the bureaucratic level, at the public-sector level, is coordination and continuum of care of services. Are services being coordinated? Are agencies being held accountable for addressing the needs of this youth and this family?" he asked. "That's a huge piece." 

Earl C. Paysinger, who is the vice president of civic engagement at USC and spent nearly four decades working with the Los Angeles Police Department, said that data needed to be paired with a broader plan of outreach and communication with communities.

As a way to illustrate his point, Paysinger used the example of COMPSTAT — the program of statistics and intelligence that police have historically used to help understand crime trends and act on them.   

"[With COMPSTAT] we ask ourselves what are the permutations? What are the spikes, trends, clusters of crimes and where do they occur? Many of the decisions that are made in law enforcement in terms of deployment are based upon the permutations of that data that we see and understand — but I'm not sure if that's the total answer. It's a big part of the picture and it's something upon which many law enforcement agencies base their budgets, but it's not the total picture."   

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.