President Obama announced the Police Data Initiative today during a speech he delivered in Camden, New Jersey. Restructuring of human resource in the local police department has resulted in significant reductions of violent crime and the distribution of drugs. The President indicated that continued progress could be made through improvements to the force’s information technology management. He announced that the White House brought an ‘elite tech team’ that would work with the Camden police force to enhance their data management, including the integration of 41 separate systems it currently uses. President Obama claimed that data reform would ensure areas of the city that require additional law enforcement resources could be identified quicker and served better. Moreover, it was suggested that better data management will aid police forces in developing trust with local communities. Camden is one of twenty-one cities participating in the initiative:
According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy: “The lessons learned in Camden can help law enforcement around the country both by example and also directly since some of the development work can be shared through open source best practice.” The participating police forces will have two primary divisions of labour:
- “Using open data to increase transparency, build community trust, and support innovation
- “Better using technology, such as early warning systems, to identify problems, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate use of force
Code for America is helping the police departments release 101 data sets that have not been accessible to the public until now. There are several open data practices included in the press release, including the creation of maps and hackathons. According to the release, Code for America is working with the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Police Foundation to “grow a community of practice for law enforcement agencies and technologists around open data and transparency in police community interactions.”
The initiative will also develop predictive analytics to identify ‘at risk’ officers in an effort to intervene before they break code of conduct. This is clearly a response to the recent media attention to excessive use of force, which President Obama gestured to in his mention of the situation in the City of Ferguson, among others. The University of Chicago is sending five data science scholars to several of the participating cities to enable them to develop analytics that will predict potentially problematic officers. The Department of Justice and other partners will apparently work with universities and other research firms to conduct research on body cameras and analytics of the video they will produce.
President Obama asserted that technology is only part of the solution in his address. He pointed to the need for society as a whole to address issues of race and racialization. President Obama also suggested the trend of increased sentencing for non-violent drug offence was usurping valuable financial resources that should be redirected from incarceration and invested in social programs. He also called attention to the social costs to communities that struggle as a result of broken homes. In his address the President was clearly acknowledging concerns about the use of force by local law enforcement agencies across the country. A point that is underscored by new policies designed to de-militarize local police forces.