Editorial: Northampton Police Department builds trust with online data

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper believes the information available through the Open Data Portal helps build trust in the police department. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Journalists spread light in dark corners. In some countries, the corners are pitch black. There, when people are arrested,
they simply vanish.

Who took them, where they were taken, their condition, whether they ever will be seen again — journalists have been killed for trying to find the answers.

Not here.

In the United States, our laws protect the rights of those who are charged, those who are innocent unless proven guilty.

Here, journalists can find out and report who has been taken off the street, and why.

Nevertheless, even here, it is unusual and laudable for law enforcement to be as open about what it does and how it does it as the Northampton Police Department, led by Chief Jody Kasper.

Do you want to know how many times a Northampton officer has used physical force on a subject, and the details of each incident?

Do you want to know how many women work for the department, how many blacks, Asians, whites and Latinos?

Do you want to know the count of adult arrests, juvenile arrests and protective custodies?

Do you want to know how often Northampton officers are involved in shootings?

It’s all there on the NPD Open Data Portal, including the list of city volunteers who are on the Open Data Team.

It was the team, recruited by Chief Kasper, who decided what data should be made available to the city’s residents.

It’s an impressive amount of information, and its availability should do exactly what Kasper hoped: help build trust in the NPD, and belief in its legitimacy and professionalism.

Kasper’s efforts began when the department joined the Police Data Initiative, a federal program launched under former President Barack Obama. The initiative encouraged the use of technology to increase transparency – to get rid of the dark corners, or, as Kasper wrote in a recent article, “to pull back the blue curtain and allow open access to information regarding agencies’ activities.”

Kasper included the community in the discussion about what data should be made available. It was an unusual approach to take, and last year, she and Capt. John Cartledge were invited to the White House to tell about 100 other police leaders from across the country how the collaborative approach had worked.

More recently, Kasper wrote a story titled, “Is the Police Data Initiative Right for Your Agency?” for Police Chief, a monthly magazine.

In that article, she explained that the NPD Open Data Portal was designed to support the first of six pillars, the pillar of “Building Trust and Legitimacy,” recommended for progressive law enforcement leaders in the final report of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“The importance of this pillar cannot be overstated,” Kasper wrote. “Any successful law enforcement agency today rests on a foundation of trust, accountability, and professionalism. Without that foundation, an undercurrent of mistrust and misperception is likely within the community.”

Kasper pointed out that, historically, police departments in this country have typically released quantitative crime data. What they have been less likely to share are statistics that answer tougher questions, such as, what are the demographic characteristics of drivers who have been pulled over, and how many have been given written warnings vs. municipal citations vs. civil citations and so on?

Thanks to Kasper and those who have helped the chief, that data for Northampton is now available online.

Truly, the Northampton Police Department is building trust through access. We applaud the NPD’s effort to bring light into the corners and encourage other area police departments to do the same.