Something Worth Protesting For

In a Facebook exchange I was asked what reform or change I thought an appropriate goal for the Stockley verdict protests.  Something that would be a real difference, and eventually lead to real change, is radical transparency into daily police/public interactions.

Most people are never involved in a violent situation with the police. Almost everyone comes in contact with the police through traffic and public safety enforcement, and it was these interactions that caused problems in Ferguson. Over the past two years we have been researching law enforcement transparency programs that could provide insight into this very basic level of police/resident interactions.  We found a Software program, Clarity, by Streetcred Software, that allows transparency into almost every documented interaction between the police and the public. (http://www.streetcredsoftware.com/)  The platform can also be used to present de-individualized information to the public on everything from the number of traffic stops to how many of the tickets are thrown out of court.  If the protesters really want to bring structural change, they should push for the implementation of Clarity or a similar transparency platform.

For all of the anger over police shootings, the vast majority of people are never involved in a violent situation with the police.  Almost everyone comes in contact with the police through traffic and public safety enforcement. As the tragedy in Ferguson showed, the mundane day-to-day interactions of traffic enforcement can have a hidden, corrosive effect on the police’s relationship with the community. In the aftermath of the shooting many young African Americans expressed frustration at regularly being stopped by the police for no reason, or being targeted for multiple tickets.

What quickly became clear was how little we knew about law enforcement’s interactions with our minority communities – or any part of our community.  We didn’t know how often young African Americans were stopped or how often police wrote multiple violations on a single traffic stop.  Much of this information existed, somewhere, in a police database, but it was not available to the community.  And Ferguson is by no means unique – in the vast majority of our cities and towns there is almost no visibility into law enforcement’s interactions with their communities.

Police departments have historically released minimal information on their operations, citing privacy concerns and the difficulty and cost of providing more detailed information.  However information technology, and particularly data reporting and visualization, have made tremendous advances over the past decade.  Greater law enforcement transparency is now technologically and economically feasible.

Programs such as Clarity are able to provide a deep level of insight, presenting at the actions of individual officers, times of day, types of interactions, initial and additional tickets, race of driver or pedestrian – literally every piece of information on a field interrogation report or citation can be captured as a data metric.

With this level of transparency, the residents of St. Louis would have an unprecedented understanding of the interactions between law enforcement and the community.  It would be an important tool for the ongoing efforts to build trust between the community and law enforcement.  THIS would be real change.

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