Uncollected Criminal Justice Data
This morning I was happy to stumble upon a new whitepaper put out on the Data & Civil Rights webpage entitled Open Data, the Criminal Justice System, and the Police Data Initiative and written by Robyn Caplan, Alex Rosenblat, and danah boyd.
The content concerns the White House initiative, which I am tangentially part of, to encourage police departments to “open up” more of their data. Ideally that would mean more information on crime rates, even though such data is often unreliable, because police departments are assessed on the basis of violent crime rates. Even more aspirationally, that would mean better data on how police officers and citizens interact on a daily basis.
But here’s the thing. You can’t open up data that you don’t collect. And for most precincts, they don’t collect that level of data. That’s my biggest takeaway of the whitepaper, and it was also the theme of a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago at an “open data” conference I spoke at.
In other words, we are starting too downstream. When we ask police departments to “open up” their data, we are assuming they collect the data we want. But they only collect the data that makes them look efficient or successful. Other data collection efforts have failed because they are entirely voluntary.
So, it’s pretty well known that we don’t have a high-quality national register of fatal police shootings, and the Guardian has a better one. But the problems don’t end there. We also don’t generally speaking know whether the public of a given precinct trusts their cops. That’s also uncollected data. We also have little information on what the conditions are for people who have been arrested.
Here’s what I’d like to see: high-quality data on the conditions at Rikers, beyond the surveillance video that the public has no access to. I volunteer to do the data analysis for free. I’m not holding my breath, though: they cannot even be trusted to count inmate fights.