Cusp In The Media

Beware of “Big Data Hubris” When It Comes to Police Reform

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For the past several years police departments around the United States have been betting on “big data” to revolutionize the way they predict, measure and, ideally, prevent crime. Some data scientists are now turning the lens on law enforcement itself in an effort to increase public insight into how well police officers are doing their jobs.

Last year, the city of Indianapolis and Code for America teamed up to launch Project Comport — an open-data platform for sharing information on complaints and use of force incidents. (Nick Selby, a police officer and software developer who consults on policing technology, recently took the system for a ride and wrote about its potential.) And two media projects recently funded by the Knight Foundation focus exclusively on American law enforcement.

The Chicago-based “Citizens Police Data Project” — an initiative of the Invisible Institute — launched a database in November containing more than 56,000 Chicago police misconduct complaints involving thousands of officers. It plans to use its Knight grant to develop a web application to simplify the filing and tracking of complaints. Meanwhile, a project called “Law Order and Algorithms” based at Stanford University plans to collect, analyze and release data on more than 100 million highway patrol stops over the next two years, creating a massive storehouse of police-citizen interactions for journalists and policymakers.

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