Open Data for Police Accountability

Authors: Andrea Craft*, University of Illinois At Chicago
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Digital Geographies
Keywords: transparency, accountability, open data, civic tech, police
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 48
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In compliance with a federally-mandated program of police reform, the Chicago Police Department, infamous for decades of anti-Black police brutality, must now report investigatory stops (“stop and frisk”) and use-of-force incidents and submit their data to independent monitors. These new reporting requirements have resulted in detailed datasets on policing practices which are now being incorporated into the city’s open data infrastructure, where they can be reused by external analysts, watchdog agencies and civic tech activists.

In this paper, I describe how one independent government agency is leveraging open data as part of a transparency initiative that centers on police accountability. In doing this, they challenge an assumption commonly made by critical data scholars, which is that open data advocates see themselves as objective, and their data products as apolitical.

Developers of the police accountability dashboard were highly conscious of their role in constructing a narrative that guides the user, and the public writ large, toward or away from different interpretations of data. Embracing that role, they eschewed the “data dump” approach, choosing instead to integrate information about the social and geographical context of police records to powerfully visualize, and direct discourse toward, the racialized violence of policing.

However, developers also chose to restrict identifying information about police officers in the dashboard. When contrasted with the exploitative "gang database", we see that Black men still do not have the right to opacity afforded to police.

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