The era of police professionalism has witnessed a significant evolution in the capabilities of police organizations. Among the major transformations has been the use of data to guide and drive policing and public safety strategies designed to prevent and reduce crime. With this evolution have come opportunities to improve policing outcomes through more strategic interventions and enforcement actions as well as greater sophistication and complexity in police planning and operations.
This change has also created new challenges, including concerns about surveillance and privacy, as police begin to leverage more data to support their efforts. At the same time, the policing profession stands at a crossroads in the aftermath of police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, creating the need for greater transparency into police operations in order to improve trust between police and the community.
Police agencies have traditionally kept data close hold, in light of their responsibility to protect the privacy interests of the communities they serve and to ensure that operations and safety are not jeopardized. But the open government movement has shown that it is possible to provide data to the public without compromising privacy, operations or safety. The benefits of providing data in an open format include better police-community collaboration as a result of increased transparency, and new ideas from researchers, community leaders and others on ways to improve the delivery of police services.
To facilitate dialogue on the benefits of open data in law enforcement, the Police Foundation’s Five Things publication focuses on the following points:
- Community analysis of open data could yield important insights into policing;
- Open data helps the community understand what police do and provides opportunities for two-way engagement;
- Open data demonstrates transparency and can promote legitimacy;
- Public safety data is important in addressing broader community concerns; and
- Open law enforcement data can help identify new tools and better processes to improve public safety.
Public safety has become more complex, and our society and the other public systems that serve it have also increased in complexity, creating the need for greater innovation and problem solving together with the community. Open data can serve as a useful resource in doing just that.