Nov 29 2021

Law Enforcement Agencies Benefit from Transparent Crime Data

Data portals can help police and sheriff’s departments comply with state laws and increase trust in the communities they serve.

As the conversation around the evolving nature of public safety agencies has progressed, one thing has remained constant: the need for law enforcement agencies to provide accurate and transparent crime data to the public.

It’s crucial for law enforcement agencies to collect, analyze and report criminal justice data. Doing so builds trust with communities they serve — which is more vital than ever. Displaying such data also ensures that policymakers and lawmakers can make informed decisions about the criminal justice system based on the most accurate information available.

The technology required to construct such open data portals is not revolutionary, but building them requires a vision for doing so, as well as investment and commitment from law enforcement leadership and IT leaders.

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The Importance of Transparency Around Law Enforcement Data

There are many reasons for law enforcement agencies to be transparent about data related to their interactions with citizens. Doing so can help the public measure both the efficacy of these agencies and the fairness of their conduct.

For example, many law enforcement agencies need to produce open data portals to comply with state laws around traffic stops. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 23 states and the District of Columbia “have laws related to or requiring collection of data when an individual is stopped by law enforcement,” with some of those laws specifically prohibiting racial profiling.

The NCSL notes that collecting demographic data “can serve as a means of ensuring compliance with those provisions or informing officials on current practices so they can respond accordingly.”

For example, since 2018, under California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), law enforcement agencies in the Golden State have been required to collect extensive data when they initiate contact with the public, particularly for traffic stops. The data, which includes information such as date, time and location, as well as the perceived race, gender, age and more of the person stopped, must be reported digitally to the California Department of Justice.

In California’s example, collecting and reporting granular data provides valuable insights and enables comparisons between different districts and agencies throughout a given state.

EXPLORE: How can technology be used to develop new approaches to public safety responses?

How to Build an Open Data Portal for Law Enforcement

Building open data portals and presenting them in an easy-to-understand fashion is not a radical feat of engineering, but it does require commitment, leadership and for the agency to use the right types of tools.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating such portals since every jurisdiction and state is going to have varying laws and regulations about which types of data law enforcement agencies need to gather.

Some common commercial tools that agencies can try include software from Microsoft Power BI and Tableau.

Tableau is a powerful, flexible analytics platform that helps the Chicago Police Department address crime more effectively and better manage internal operations. Today, individuals throughout the department use Tableau to build not only reports, but also dashboards that monitor changing situations in near real-time, with graphs, maps and other visualizations to bring the information alive.

RELATED: Public safety agencies are using technology to make data-driven decisions.

Agencies need to determine whether their criminal or stop data needs to be reported daily, weekly, monthly or at other intervals.

Some agencies may want to turn to customized solutions. For example, Veritone recently announced a new solution, Veritone Contact, which it calls “an automated software solution enabling California law enforcement agencies to systematically collect” RIPA-compliant stop data.

For complicated data projects or in cases where a law enforcement agency does not have the in-house expertise to set up a data portal, agencies can turn to trusted third parties to help them with software development. Agencies need to gather data via records management systems and use custom applications to perform granular analysis.

Law enforcement agencies that take the time and resources to invest in data portals that can display statistics about how they operate ensure compliance and help build trust within communities that rely on their service.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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EvgeniyShkolenko/Getty Images

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