Friday, July 10, 2015

Crime, Police And Criminal Justice Data

Today’s post takes a brief look at civic hacking related to crime, police and criminal justice data.

The original modern civic hack was chicagocrime.org. In 2005 there was enough crime information available in Chicago that mapping out where the crimes occurred was an interesting challenge to the civic hacker who created it, Adrian Holovaty. And it gave useful information, showing where clusters of crime activity were throughout the Chicago area.

Moving ahead from 2005 to 2015, some current civic hackers see value in working with criminal justice data because of deteriorated police-community relations. Rather than just mashing up maps to show where crimes occur, these hackers are attempting to use law enforcement-related data as a way to communicate and improve contentious issues in police-community relations.

As far as I know, NE Wisconsin cities don’t have major crime or police-citizen problems, unless someone who’s 50+ years old is comparing today with their distant childhood when many people in Oshkosh or Green Bay didn’t lock their doors at home. Civic hacking on criminal justice data is probably more prevalent in large cities where more crime occurs, generating more data. In those big cities, civic hackers are trying to figure out ways to help reduce crime or at least make people more aware of its impact.

However, one challenge that comes up with criminal justice data is the sensitivity of politicians and law enforcement officials to public discussion about that data. Government reluctance to make ‘public’ data more widely available is common for many types of data (good topic for a future blog post), but there is heightened reluctance regarding data involving crimes and police interactions with the residents of a city or county.

Maybe for NE Wisconsin, the fact that there isn’t a perceived major crime problem right now means this is a good time to start a dialogue with one or several area cities about making criminal justice data more open and more available. Civic hackers working on this in our region won’t be as aggressive and agitated as they might be in Baltimore with Freddie Gray-related police-community issues or in LA where they’re trying to combat violent crimes, gangs, and other high profile issues. We can have friendly, informal meetings between civic hackers, city officials and law enforcement to discuss creating a couple open data sets for criminal justice.

If we establish a precedent now for civic hacking of lower-sensitivity criminal justice data, that will make it much easier in the future if major situations arise where civic hacking of criminal justice data might be seen as badly needed or very useful.

My proposal regarding civic hacking of criminal justice data is this:

If you’re interested in working with crime, police and criminal justice data, do research on what data of that type is available from your city. If crime data isn’t available, work with the people in your city who can make that info available. Then come to the next civic hacking activity in NE Wisconsin and share with other civic hackers what you’re working on.

If you want to hack criminal justice data, but don’t want to tackle it by yourself, contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. We’ll discuss what types of data you’re most interested in and develop a plan to meet with the appropriate people, get access to relevant data, and launch the first NE Wisconsin criminal justice civic hack.

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If this aspect of civic hacking intrigues you, there’s no need to start from scratch. Lots of people have been working on this -- check out a few of the links below:
The Landscape of Municipal Crime Data
The Impact of Opening Up Crime Data” 
The benefits of criminal justice data: Beyond policing
The benefits of data in criminal justice: Improving police-community relations
5 Ways to Jumpstart the Release of Open Data on Policing
OpenGov Voices: Challenges and solutions to collecting law enforcement data” 
Police Data: What Do People Want?” 
City of Philadelphia Releases Open Data on Parking Violations
Rancho Cucamonga Launches Public Safety Dashboard
OpenGov Voices: How open is your city's crime data?
"Police Blotter" items from Neenah, Menasha and the Town of Menasha
"Recommendations for Stronger Crime Data

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