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More Open Gov’t Data Can Help Post-Ferguson Police Reforms: Ideas from Sunlight Foundation — UPDATE: Data Recommendations in Interim Report of President’s Task Force

dcogcadmin | December 7, 2014

Sunlight Foundation National Policy Manager Emily Shaw in a 12/5/14 blog post offers a great roundup of ways that more and better government data, used to empower public discussion, should be part of the move towards increased police accountability.

Linking to the three approaches in the President’s initiative to strengthen community policing, announced December 1, 2014, Shaw writes:

–as federal funds encourage more police to wear cameras, can we be sure the cameras will be on when they should be, that the resulting video will be safeguarded (no 21st Century Rosemary Woods “accidentally” erasing key parts of a street shooting video) and that state and local records policy adapts so that the resulting video will be generally open under thoughtful guidelines balancing privacy and access?  (On the last point, see a separate post on this site on an early denial of access in D.C.)

–as police use federally-provided ex-military equipment, all too often ill-suited to domestic police work, will that inventory be publicly disclosed and will the public be involved in establishing policies for its use?

–will the task force on improved 21st Century relations between police and communities stress improved public data on complaints (improved ways to submit them and transparent data on what happens to them), on use of force investigations and other internal audits, and on use of particular techniques such as stop-and-frisk (where court review in New York City depended crucially on a database of details of four million stops)?

UPDATE – 3/12/15 The Task Force interim report discusses the need for police departments to have use-of-force policy and for data to be collected about such incidents, including better data on officer-involved shootings nationwide as well as consistent community-wide review of serious incidents. (See Action Item 2.2.4, p. 22.)  

Recommendation 2.6 (p. 24) calls for “encouraging” police to collect data on all detentions including stops and frisks, searches and summonses.

As to complaints, Recommendation 2.8 and related Action Items (pp. 26-27) address in a general way the need for civilian oversight, but the call is general (“some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement is important”).  The authors are cautious, saying “we lack strong research evidence that it works” and limiting their call to more study.

Recommendation 2.15 (p. 30) does call on police departments to require officers to carry cards with their identifying information and how to contact a civilian complaint review office. 

Full report is: President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. 2015. Interim Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. First published March 1, 2015 Revised March 4, 2015.