Volume 106
Fall '17

Open Data Policing

Written By: Cynthia H. Conti-Cook


More than any other promised police reform, the public would benefit from the government adopting an “open data” philosophy towards police accountability data. “Open data” in the context of public policy is the philosophy that when the government “provides people access to its process, decision-making, and data,” a “more effective ecosystem for innovation and development” results. Body cameras have been introduced across the country as the manifestation of transparent policing meant to restore the public’s trust in police following multiple murders of unarmed young men and women of color nationwide. However, as Professor Simonson writes in her essay, “Beyond the Body Camera: Defending a Robust Right to Record the Police,” the body camera footage is created, stored, organized, and distributed by governmental agencies that continue controlling the narrative about police conduct. In this article, I elaborate on Professor Simonson’s observation about governmental control over the narrative. I also discuss diverging approaches to public access to body camera footage from Seattle, which has embraced an “open data” model, to Minnesota, where restrictions on public access to police data are being introduced for the first time through legislative regulations. On a more optimistic note, I will also discuss non-governmental efforts to subvert that control by cataloging and reporting on police accountability data. The seriousness and wealth of the information collected and shared through these efforts stands in sharp contrast to the dearth of police accountability data being disseminated by the government.

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