In October last year, we traveled to Austin, Texas for our final event on the NSF Big Data in Criminal Justice planning grant: a stakeholder forum with local community activists, policy experts and members of the Austin Police Department. The forum took place as part of MEASURE’s Big Data & Community Policing Conference, a three day event that brought together police departments, community non-profits, think tanks and tech companies to tackle some of policing’s toughest challenges: building trust with communities, developing real-time performance metrics for police officers, improving data collection methods, and balancing the benefits of open data with privacy protections, to name a few.
At the stakeholder forum, we sought to understand how the Austin Police Department had undergone a cultural shift in the past several years that enabled a major collaborative partnership with MEASURE, a local non-profit that wants to help police departments deliver on the promise of community policing by developing metrics that matter. Key points included
- Open data at APD has broadened the department’s capacity for problem solving.
- Community groups make recommendations based on their own research.
- Police chiefs are critical to cultural change.
- Former APD Chief Acevedo began open data rollout.
- APD Chief Manley has encouraged community collaborations.
- Cultural change requires internal and external legitimacy.
- Internally, officers must understand the rationale of the new approach.
- Externally, the department shares data and invites feedback.
- Partnerships with the community are now common at high and medium levels.
- Patrol officer level involvement is a longer term goal.
- Data is often messy and difficult to integrate.
- Records maintenance systems are not designed for research and analysis.
- City police departments and sheriff’s offices often count use-of-force differently.
- Older systems contain valuable data that may be impossible to integrate. For example, New York City’s 911 systems are physically siloed from other data sources.
- Regional specifics must be considered in open data efforts.
- Departments must be careful of greater potential for personally identifiable data in sparsely populated areas.
- Data can become a lingua franca among department officials and activists.
- Data can reveal racial disparities in use-of-force incidents.
- Data can create a collaborative problem solving mindset.
- However, some are concerned that data collaboration efforts can obscure deeper racial tensions between police departments and the communities they serve.
We are now working on extending the planning grant and re-engaging with Boise stakeholders, including the City of Boise and the Boise Police Department, to facilitate connections to the big data expertise of other cities and to refine best practices for working with big data.