How Apps Can Prompt Police Departments to Release More Stats

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati, Ohio


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In trying to answer questions about U.S. crime using open data, app developers on the online analytics platform Foxtrot Code are requiring even more transparency from city officials.

Foxtrot Code, an analytics software company, is compiling information many cities are releasing through the White House Police Data Initiative so developers can build apps increasing our understanding of crime in the United States.

The online analytics platform is free to use, though there’s a fee to list apps for sale, and already has data from 17 police jurisdictions and other sources like Twitter and The Weather Channel.

Some cities, like Dallas and Chicago, have even released criminal justice metadata, including whether weapons or drugs were used in incidents or if gangs were involved.

“This is about producing apps that can run any city’s data and start a dialogue around the particular story the person who developed the app was trying to tell,” Ed Fullman, Foxtrot Code’s cofounder, CEO and CTO, said in a recent interview.

After entering into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002 following a fatal officer-involved shooting the year before that set off three days of riots, the Cincinnati Police Department made a Collaborative Agreement with the National Black United Front and American Civil Liberties Union that included improving transparency.

Cincinnati pioneered data sharing between police department and community stakeholders where the public monitored the data, Fullman said, launching an open data portal last year.

“The long-term vision for data-sharing in Cincinnati is to use it as a vehicle to improve City functions such as public safety, customer service and economic activity. It will also increase government accountability,” Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black said in a statement. “This type of grassroots effort is exactly what we hoped would sprout from our release of the Open Data Cincinnati portal.”

Many cities still don’t release their homicide data, Fullman said, but Foxtrot Code asks the question: What more information can cities release? Cities will find developers, unable to answer a nagging question about the data, seeking the release of more datasets to provide answers.

“If it’s up to the city, the city on some level is going to follow other cities or have an internal dialogue focused on risk,” Fullman said. “You can overthink these sort of things.”

Privacy is an issue, but names are often less relevant than whether or not a suspect had a gun, he added.

Fullman’s team spoke with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about two months ago, out of which came an Aug. 13 hackathon in Cincinnati that spawned three apps.

“Giving City data to the public encourages residents to help come up with creative tools to engage, improve and serve the community they call home,” Black wrote. “Data-sharing is a conduit for social change.”

The first app tracks 9-1-1 calls to see if they can be tied to a particular individual who might receive an intervention before he or she succumbs to problems with drug abuse or finances. A second app analyzes the relationship between building permit improvements and crime to see where gentrification is pressuring communities. Finally, an app emerged to compare the concentration of crime with police response times to see if low-income neighborhoods are underserved compared to wealthier neighborhoods.

Foxtrot would like to wrap the apps within a month and then shift focus to Austin, then to Chicago and then Dallas.

“If you want to get beyond bicycle route maps and get into real community issues, it takes some time,” Fullman said. “This is not your traditional process.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor with Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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