IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Police Chiefs Explore Tech's Connection to Transparency

Local police chiefs shared a number of observations about technology, transparency and the social responsibility of police departments during a webinar hosted by Veritone and Microsoft early last week.

Technology like social media and body cameras should play a role in law enforcement's transparency to the public, said local police chiefs during a Veritone- and Microsoft-hosted webinar last week.

Near the beginning of the webinar, John Letteney, chief of the Thomasville Police Department in Georgia, said transparency can't happen without ethical staff and thoughtful data policies. The rapid evolution of technology demands a firm understanding of what a department can and can't do.

"We need to have good policies in our organization that gives guidance to our staff," Letteney explained. "What information do we get? How do we use it? How is it legal?”

Jorge Cisneros, chief of the Anaheim Police Department in California, said departments need to educate the public about whatever technology they plan to use well before the tech is implemented. One way to be proactive is to use social media. Cisneros noted that his department began reporting live on social media during last year's protests about George Floyd's murder.

Although Cisneros admitted there are limits to what departments can say, police can't cling to a past where it was acceptable to be relatively silent.

"I’m from that era, that you hold things really tight and close … ladies and gentlemen, that era is gone,” Cisneros remarked.

Steven Casstevens, chief of the Buffalo Grove Police Department in Illinois, described social media as "incredibly important" to modern police when it comes to giving citizens the most up-to-date information. He cited the example of the Boston Police Department, which had a solid social media presence well before the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013.

"Because they had done such a great job leading up to that, that social media was very successful for them in managing the information about the bombing," Casstevens pointed out.

Letteney said his department uses social media to share information about current crimes and community outreach. One key point for law enforcement is that individual platforms like Facebook and Twitter only represent a "segment of your community."

"You've got to be on multiple platforms, and you’ve got to have a consistent message," Letteney advised.

The chiefs also discussed the rise of body cameras and their role in increasing transparency about officers' use of force. Letteney said although body cams are "universally accepted in the profession," they come with the cost of scouring through hours of data and staying on top of public record laws. Buying the cameras is actually "the cheap part of the solution."

In regard to the challenge of dealing with bodycam footage, both Letteney and Cisneros praised the ability of artificial intelligence software that makes reviewing and editing video less time-consuming.

Casstevens made a different point about being transparent on use of force. He said more than half of police agencies decline to report about use of force to the FBI. Because of this lack of data reporting, publications like The Washington Post have been the go-to source for information on use of force.

Casstevens believes departments should be more willing to share use of force data with the FBI, especially since there are so many police cases where force isn't used.

"Every month your agency should be reporting zeros to that database," he said. "The more agencies that report zeroes, the more accurate that data will be … but right now less than 40 percent are reporting. I find that unacceptable."

On the subject of data, Cisneros said while he thinks the practice of collecting basic demographic data on individuals who have interactions with police is a good way to detect potential biases against racial and ethnic groups, sometimes that information isn't enough to tell the whole story. To address this limitation, the Anaheim Police Department has worked with Veritone to develop an app that collects more detailed data.

Letteney said when it comes to collecting resident feedback on how well police are doing their jobs, informal surveying is as important as completing formal surveys for accreditation. Police can build trust with residents by making them feel comfortable enough to approach officers and talk about their concerns.

"It's having that regular form of communication [in person]," Letteney said.
Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.