On December 17, 2015, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), a North Carolina-based civil rights non-profit, launched OpenDataPolicingNC.com at a public event in downtown Durham. The first site of its kind, OpenDataPolicingNC.com draws upon public records to publish up-to-date stop, search, and use-of-force data—broken down by race and ethnicity—for every police department and police officer in the state of North Carolina. All told, the website accounts for nearly twenty million traffic stops made by NC police officers since 2000. In addition to members of the general public curious to learn about the enforcement habits of their police department, the site has practical applications for police management, civil rights and criminal defense attorneys, and city officials with oversight of the police, among others. Chief of Police Howard Medlock of Fayetteville, City Councilman Charlie Reece of Durham, and Southern Coalition staff attorney Ian Mance, the site’s creator, appeared at the Thursday event to give a public demonstration of the site and offer comment.
In May 2015, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies collect and publish information on stops, searches, and the use-of-force, “aggregated by demographics.” The report recommended that police agencies “embrace a culture of transparency” by making this information available for public review. SCSJ staff attorney and lead site developer Ian Mance presented a beta version of the website to Chief U.S. Data Scientist DJ Patil at the White House in April 2015, as part of a meeting coordinated by the White House’s Police Data Initiative (WHPDI). The invitation ultimately led to SCSJ’s partnership with Medlock and Fayetteville PD, a participating agency in the initiative.
“The Administration believes that data transparency is absolutely critical to community engagement and building trust between police departments and the citizens that they serve,” said Patil, who currently works in the White House as a Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy. “Through their participation in the Police Data Initiative, Fayetteville PD is actively making open data a core component of community policing, and we’re excited to see the Southern Coalition for Social Justice helping to expand those efforts. We look forward to seeing other communities like Fayetteville join the on-going work underneath the initiative, and making open data about policing a reality in departments across the country.”
For more than 15 years, North Carolina has led the nation with respect to the collection of police data on traffic stops, passing the first of its laws on the matter in 1999. However, for largely technological reasons, the data collected has thus far remained largely inaccessible. Open Data Policing closes the technology gap by putting all of the data online in a readily searchable format, complete with easy-to-understand charts and graphs that detail the stop, search, use-of-force, and contraband seizure patterns for police departments and individual police officers (whose names do not appear on the site), all broken down by race and ethnicity. The technology team, led by Caktus Group CTO Colin Copeland, included data scientist Andy Shapiro and software engineer Dylan Young.
Charlie Reece, a newly sworn Durham City Councilman who participated in a 2014 campaign that reformed Durham PD’s search protocols, said having access to relevant data regarding the traffic stop issues about which community members were voicing concerns about was critical to the city’s decision-making process. “The ability to access and analyze officer stop data was essential to showing that the racial disparities were real but also to convincing city leaders that policy changes were needed,” said Reece.
“Traffic stops are the most common way that citizens interact with police officers,” said Mance, “so it’s important that we understand as much as we can about the various dynamics at play. This site enables anyone who engages with these issues—whether they be police chiefs, courts, lawyers, or policymakers—to ground their conversation in the facts.”
Consistent with its goal of promoting transparency in policing, SCSJ is also announcing a partnership with the Fayetteville Police Department and Chief of Police Harold Medlock to develop additional features for the Open Data Policing site. Chief Medlock, whose work to rebuild community trust in Fayetteville was the subject of a recent front-page article in The New York Times, appeared at the site launch event in Durham to discuss future website development and his plans to integrate use of the website into his management protocols.
“The sharing of this information allows for a better interpretation of the data and for the evaluation to be done at a quick rate that was previously not available,” said Chief Medlock. “This platform presents the information in a manner that increases the transparency of the Fayetteville Police Department and improves the community and police relationship.”