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Open Data, Open Conversation

The “more you know” campaigns made famous by NBC are all about providing information in quick and timely snippets. In fact, citizens can be more involved in the community and local government. As such, the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Code for America launched Project Comport, an open-data initiative. The open-data initiative paves the way for a more unified collaboration among local law enforcement and the community.

Jenny Montoya Tansey, Safety and Justice Director at Code for America, and Laura Ellena, Researcher for Code for America, sat down with Emily Jarvis on GovLoop’s State and Local Spotlight to discuss their open-data project and how it is improving the way the city interacts and functions with its citizenry.emily-snl-badge-02-300x300

So, how does Project Comport work?

Project Comport is a tool to extract, clean, and publish data about policing practices, Montoya Tansey explained. And as one can imagine, dealing with data from law enforcement means working with sensitive information. Therefore, Montoya Tansey furthered, the tool extracts data from the Internal Affairs database of a law enforcement agency and anonymizes it. This is important so as to protect the identity of victims and witnesses- in some cases, even police officers themselves. After this step has been taken, the data is visualized on a public website to provide context to the public. Project Comport also allows DPS to analyze data on use of force, officer-involved shootings, and complaints against the police.

Initially, Ellena shared, they held a community preview event for the project in which people made a couple of visualization recommendations. They also had some representatives from DPS and the local police department to help citizens understand the technical aspects of the data, such as how to identify and read what the data is saying. And the project continues to be an on-going process. “From what I’ve heard from the community, people are still exploring how to use the data. Their main goal is to keep poking around to see what they can find in this new data set and to continue having an open conversation with DPS when they do find things,” Ellena shared.

Why go through all this work?

The answer is two-fold Montoya Tansey explained. One, the city of Indianapolis, DPS, and local law enforcement agencies were interested in being able to incorporate information into the ongoing conversations surrounding the national scrutiny of law enforcement. Second, DPS and local law enforcement agencies wanted to better understand what issues were driving crime and violence in the communities. “They wanted a holistic narrative,” Montoya Tansey said. “They wanted to look at the information about policing practices as part of a complete picture.” However, getting the complete picture is a process.

To effectively portray the most up-to-date information, the project is constantly being updated. “It’s near real-time,” Montoya Tansey stated. This key aspect of the project helps in various forms; most evidently when the police department needs to deal with an internal issue. What would normally take several months to find and react to now only takes an instance. For example, the project pings the Citizen’s Police Complaint Office when there have been a handful of minor complaints with a specific individual, within a specific timeframe. Consequently, a supervisor can first address the matter with said individual to see if there is more to the story and, if need be, take further action to prevent any continued issues. “Just being able to see things like the minor complaints and being able to do an internal intervention to make sure the officer is alright and that any external challenges they’re dealing with aren’t affecting the public is a big step forward,” Ellena said.

Project Comport is catching on. Montoya Tansey shared that they are currently running pilot launches in at least three other police agencies in the area. The hope is that the project and its concept will extend across the state-maybe, even across the nation.

To read more about Project Comport, please click here.

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