From Anchorage to Little Rock, cities commit to opening up police data

President Barack Obama speaks to the press after a meeting with members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. (Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy/Official White House Photo)

Recent events have put a spotlight on police-community relations throughout the country. Lack of accountability and distrust of the police have become significant issues for the nation to grapple with. In response to this, President Obama launched the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December 2014. The Task Force emphasized the opportunity for jurisdictions to better use data to build community trust, and as a result the White House launched the Police Data Initiative (PDI), a program created to establish a community of practice around sharing police open data.

When PDI was launched in 2015, leaders of the initiative, Denice Ross and Clarence Wardell, encouraged an initial 21 police jurisdictions to commit to releasing frequently requested datasets, identifying transparency around data police collect as way to foster trust. Sunlight partnered with the White House on PDI to provide support for departments to adopt sustainable open data policies and practices, mirroring our work to build sustainable open data policy frameworks in cities across the country as a part of the What Works Cities initiative.

Two cities that Sunlight has worked with — Little Rock, Ark., and Anchorage, Alaska — recently announced their participation in the initiative. Little Rock has already put 15 datasets on the city’s open data portal, while Anchorage is working to determine which of the city’s datasets to include.

The release of police data provides another avenue for the police and public to interact and build a mutual understanding, while providing insight into ways that jurisdictions can improve police operations. In a statement to Alaska Public Radio, Anchorage PD noted how they are engaging the community to determine which datasets they would like to release. “We’ve been going to the community safety meetings and community councils and getting a feel for what the community is starving for, what information they’re wanting from the Anchorage Police Department.” According Brendan Babb, the city’s chief innovation officer, “APD uses data internally to improve, and provides police and crime data online. The PDI will help residents more easily find that data in a centralized location.”

Through this direct engagement with the community that opening of police data provides, Anchorage and Little Rock are finding ways to humanize the data they work with, providing the opportunity for more impactful solutions. This includes instances like the emergence of hotspot policing, which emphasizes focusing on areas of high criminal activity.

Participation by the 129 jurisdictions in PDI shows how data can be a bridge between the police and the public. By opening police data, Little Rock and Anchorage, along with dozens of other police departments across the country, are demonstrating that information is a powerful tool for improving policing and community relations.