The responsibility for monitoring and protecting a citizenry cannot be effectively enacted without trust—within police departments, of and by a municipality’s leaders, and especially between police and the citizens they serve. The essential social contract that contributes to public order falls apart where suspicion enters the picture, which makes transparency a critical goal for police departments all over the country.
Especially during a time when many Americans are reconsidering the role of police in their communities, making policies, procedures, data, and decision-making available to the public can go a long way toward building and maintaining trust.
The push for transparency—and its projected benefits
More than half of Americans say major changes to policing are needed and only 6% say things are good as they stand. That poll was conducted shortly after the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder, but those numbers haven’t really budged in the two years that followed.
Respondents necessarily base those answers on emotion more than anything: on the stories that make the news and other anecdotal evidence. That doesn’t make them wrong, but it does mean these perceptions are unsupported by the kind of information that would enable deep analysis, comparisons among regions, and progress to be charted.
Is this police department’s educational effort having a positive impact? Is this one truly engaging in more violent altercations than it used to? How can officers respond more effectively to situations where mental health is a factor? For these and dozens of other points, answers aren’t available until solid data is available—and that data is accessible to and understandable by the public. Because serving the public also means sharing the who, what, when, where, and why of those efforts.
Accountability and transparency are as important for finding what isn’t working as for identifying successes in the continual effort to provide more effective policing. Despite increased budgetary scrutiny, many police departments have made great strides or have ample successes that can’t readily be brought to the public. Where conversation about police efforts is ongoing, the narrative is built on trust. Citizens know they’re being heard and included. There’s a relationship where distrust would otherwise fester.
Where criticism arose, transparency reassured the public
Expectations of transparency are growing in every facet of government, and whenever negative press arises, the volume of those demands increases. For a police department in the Midwest, responsiveness to civic concern about whether traffic stops unfairly targeted minorities led to a solution that provided residents the openness they wanted and gave leadership greater insight into its practices.
News stories at the time had drawn a lot of eyes to police practices, and getting the department’s story out proved to be a challenge under the weight of diminished public perception—and especially without data to support the department’s case. To change the narrative, the department knew it needed to go further to show details about its work. Making statistics public would help eradicate misperceptions and alert officers to practices that didn’t support the department’s mission.
Creating greater openness, increasing trust, and ensuring accountability meant the department needed to enable citizens to easily access information about its activities, and it tapped Resultant to help build the solution.
Giving citizens easy access to greater detail
Our team started with outreach and citizen focus groups to learn where the concerns lay and to determine what information people really wanted. We worked also with the department to assess internal concerns, evaluate the technology and data foundations that would support a solution, and learn how that solution could provide useful information within the department, as well.
The resulting public-facing dashboard provides updated information that citizens can filter according to any combination of categories, including type of stop, violation type, and driver’s race, gender, and age range. The dashboard provides a running tally of stops, comparing it to statistics from prior years and mapping where stops occurred.
Behind the dashboard, the Resultant team built a workflow and data-ingestion tool to ensure the relevant facts were being brought to light reliably. We also built an internal dashboard that enables the department to run its own data analytics as necessary, supporting their efforts to find greater insight and adapt to key learnings.
Making transparency a priority
It’s simple: Trust is impossible where information is hidden. And communities are stronger where trust prevails. That’s true across the full range of government services and agencies.
We help clients walk the path that brings them toward greater transparency—and greater clarity about what their data reveals. We’d be glad to tell you more.