Transparency and Technology Can Work Together

Public perception of law enforcement can be negative for the wrong reasons. Although policing efforts have expanded in the past two decades to include proactive strategies, many times the public only focuses on the misses or the losses in the game. Today, there is a lot of conversation about accountability, federal oversight, and transparency.

Liam Dillon has been writing about the efforts of Professor Joshua Chanin of the University of San Diego as he studies transparency among police departments in San Diego and beyond. His studies lead to two conclusions:

  1. Police departments overall aren’t transparent.
  2. Transparency correlates with a good police department.

In an article run on the Voice of San Diego from May 2014, Dillon summarized the efforts Chanin made in his study into transparency in police departments:

“Chanin examined the websites of more than 300 city and county police departments to see whether they provided information about contacting the department, filing complaints, using force and any other insight into how the departments operate. He said websites aren’t the only measure of transparency, but they’re the primary way departments communicate with the public.”

While this study focuses on what information police departments disclose or make publically available, Chanin is clear that the problem isn’t that police departments are intentionally withholding information or intentionally failing to make information known to the public, but rather, that as they weigh the benefits of making this information available to the public and against the risks that that could introduce, departments often go toward the less risk option.

One vehicle that can deliver increased transparency is technology

While the public is also often concerned about where technology adoption will lead police and other law enforcement officials, what the public and the police are discovering (and have been discovering for over a decade now) is the value of technology to bring more accountability into behavior on both sides. Some examples include:

  1. Video technology: In 2008, Brian Forst prepared a presentation at the Bureau of Justice (BJS) titled Improving Police Effectiveness and Transparency: National Information Needs on Law Enforcement. In the publication, he notes that “video technology in the hands of private citizens has mushroomed beyond anyone’s imagining of just 20 years ago, and the police have learned painfully that if they misbehave, their families may watch the event on the evening news.”
  2. Predictive Analytics: While police departments are still at different places across the country in adopting software that enables them to harness the power of big data to identify hot spots and drive crime mapping efforts, the benefits are clear. Some police departments pay $10,000 to $150,000 a year to gain access this software which delivers double-digit drops in crime. Santa Cruz , for example, saw burglaries drop by 11% and robberies by 27% in the first year of using predictive analytics software according to a Forbes article published in March 2015. Police are increasingly becoming proactive about sharing how these software systems work and sharing with the public that the use of these systems are “not [like] sci-fi’s Minority Report, in which police target specific criminals based on their intent. Instead, it focuses on location, using time, place and type of crime to unearth patterns.”
  3. In-Field Laptops and Mobile Devices: Devices like the iRecord Microsoft Surface enable police officers and other law enforcement agencies to capture video and audio in the field, saving time and improving workflows and efficiencies. What’s more, with easy file sharing capabilities and multiple storage options, technology like the mobile device is affording police departments with the opportunities to keep communities safer and close cases more quickly.

How is your department using technology to deliver transparency? Weigh in with us!

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