The Rutland City Police Department is participating in a nationwide initiative to make more data about police activity available to the public.
President Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December 2014 following a series of fatal shootings of unarmed African Americans by police. The task force recommended, among other things, that police departments to work on transparency with the public.
The Rutland City Police Department is one of more than 20 pilot sites across the country taking part in the new “Police Data Initiative.”
Rutland police are compiling — and will release — data on crime incidence and arrest reports; incidences of use of force; and community meetings attended by police officers. The department is starting with data from 2014.
Captain Scott Tucker of the Rutland City Police Department says some of this data has been available in summary form, but the new effort will make it more comprehensive and accessible.
“The disaggregate nature of the data would allow the public and researchers to draw their own conclusions,” says Tucker.
“In some cases the challenge is protection of privacy. On arrests reports and crime incidences we want to protect the privacy of juveniles, and we may want to protect the privacy of victims such as a sexual assaults victim.”
Tucker says sorting through the data to redact names or blur out faces of domestic abuse victims takes time. The department is working with Socrata, a nationwide company with experience creating open data sets at municipal level.
“This whole idea of transparency that will help us with community trust goes right back into some things we’ve been doing here for last three years in Rutland through Project Vision,” he says. “So this idea of the police data initiative enhances that direction we’ve been going.”
Tucker also says the Rutland police force is considering using body cameras that would be worn by officers.
“Certainly body-worn cameras have been known to create this whole idea of a civility effect,” says Tucker. “And that is that not only is the officer cognizant that he’s filming but the other person involved in the encounter will be told that we’re filming.”
Tucker says other jurisdictions that use the body cameras report that complaints against officers go down after implementation.
The other challenge for body-worn cameras is how to store the data and for how long, and balancing those questions with the issues of privacy.
“The ultimate potential here is to move data as quickly as possible to the public sooner rather than later,” says Tucker. “In terms of the Freedom of Information Act, it takes a certain amount of time to release these kinds of things. What we want to do is be ahead of that.”
Tucker says sharing data with the public is increasingly going to be part of the job: “This is a trend that I don’t see going away."