The White House announced Friday that 53 police departments across the United States have committed to an initiative designed to make local policing more transparent. In 2014, President Barack Obama began the Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a way to identify the best ways to reduce crimes in local communities and increase trust between police and citizens. The Police Data Initiative was launched in May last year as a response to several recommendations made by that task force.
The White House said in a statement the commitments “represent concrete steps toward building trust” in local communities between citizens and police, and are indicative of a larger shift in the culture of community policing.
Clarence Wardell, a digital services expert with the White House, touts the data initiative as “a push toward openness and transparency around the holistic framework of policing.”
“What we are trying to do here is set up sustainable systems and sustainable communities so that over time this data transparency will hopefully lead to trust within the community,” Wardell said during a White House event marking the one-year anniversary of the data program.
All told, the 53 police jurisdictions oversee more than 41 million people, and to date more than 90 data sets have been released. The jurisdictions participating in the program come from many regions of the U.S., including major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Dallas.
‘Transformative’ for Dallas
The Dallas Police Department described the data initiative as “transformative.”
Police Chief David Brown said that since his department began publicly disclosing the data in 2015, his department’s excessive reports complaints have been reduced by 67 percent. Deadly force incidents, he said, have been cut by 45 percent.
Brown emphasized that in order for the data program to be successful, citizens must be aware that the data does not belong to the police.
“We believe first that the data we have belongs to the citizens, and that we are the caretakers of that data,” Brown said.
Brown also said accountability is vital to the data initiative.
Since the Dallas Police Department began disclosing the information last year, two officers have been terminated.
“We believe that holding the small numbers of officers accountable protects the integrity of the vast majority of the officers who uphold the standards of our noble profession,” Brown said.
Some participating police departments were initially concerned about disclosing information about their law enforcement activities; but since the program was launched last year, some concerns have diminished.
“Since we started all of this, the sky is not falling,” said Louisville Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Robert Schroeder. “There has been no great criticism of our department. Our officers have not stopped working.”
The White House is seeking new partnerships in an effort to encourage other local police agencies to begin sharing their data. Two police groups, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation, are offering training programs to law enforcement agencies that want to learn about the data-sharing process.
The Obama administration is also set to announce the creation of two new offices within the Department of Justice aimed at reforming police practices based on the data gathered through the initiative.