This week the White House launched its Police Data Initiative.  In announcing the Initiative, US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said:

By finding innovative work already underway in these diverse communities and bringing their leaders together with top technologists, researchers, data scientists and design experts, the Police Data Initiative is helping accelerate progress around data transparency and analysis, toward the goal of increased trust and impact. Through the Initiative, key stakeholders are establishing a community of practice that will allow for knowledge sharing, community-sourced problem solving, and the establishment of documented best practices that can serve as examples for police departments nationwide.

The Initiative is responding to recommendations and action items published by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  Several of these recommendations touch on the importance of embracing data, information sharing, and technology as tools to enhance community policing, build trust, and foster greater accountability and transparency.  The Initiative involves 21 innovative police departments and communities across the country.

Presidential Innovation Fellow Denice Ross and Jim Burch of the Police Foundation also blogged this week, on the Code for America site, about some specific things police departments can do to pursue the path of Open Data implicit in the Police Data Initiative.  The 21 participating police agencies will demonstrate these approaches in the coming months as they build interfaces to data systems, establish portals for visualizing and mapping data, and develop policy and practice frameworks to support open data.

The Police Data Initiative, like the OJBC, is a much-needed effort to improve the sharing of law enforcement information, and we applaud the Administration, partners, and the 21 jurisdictions that are moving this forward.  Like the OJBC, the Police Data Initiative will only scale nationwide if the technology systems that store law enforcement records have open interfaces.  By that, we mean an ability for the police departments and their partners to access the data, securely and electronically and in real time, without having to buy expensive interfacing software or pay the system vendor to unlock the data.

Open interfaces must conform to the basic industry standards widely used on the Internet for information sharing—standards like XML, JSON, REST, and web services.  The structure and definition of the data exposed by each interface should be expressed in the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), and interfaces ought to leverage the guidance of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative.  Without open interfaces, it will not be possible to replicate initial successes and fulfill the vision of the President’s Task Force in a way that we can afford as a country.

Several forward-thinking providers of police records systems have begun adopting this approach, and hopefully all vendors will one day follow these innovators.  Fortunately, the technology needed to enable open interfaces exists and is proven, and is inexpensive for system vendors to implement.  It is important that the police departments that buy these systems, and the procurement officers in their jurisdictions, insist on open interfaces in RFPs and contracts.

Adopting a culture of open data and open interfaces will pay dividends far beyond the Police Data Initiative, as well.  Open interfaces can also enable police departments to share information with one another, and with justice partners like prosecutors, courts, jails, corrections, and probation.  These efforts improve public safety and promote more effective, efficient government through automation and streamlined processes.  And, using standards-based approaches like the OJB, the sharing of information can occur within a framework that protects privacy, civil liberties, and security of the underlying data.

We have learned, through the OJBC, some specific things police departments (and other justice agencies) can do to ensure they implement technology in an open way.  We will share some of these ideas in future posts…so stay tuned!