Northampton police chief, captain talk about department’s transparency efforts at White House

  • Police Chief Jody Kasper and Captain John Cartledge at the White House for a data presentation on Tuesday. —Northampton police photo

For the Gazette
Published: 8/17/2016 6:17:49 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Police Chief Jody Kasper delivered a presentation at the White House on Tuesday regarding the Northampton Police Department’s unique approach to a police transparency initiative.

The department joined the Police Data Initiative, a federal program launched last year that encourages the use of technology to increase transparency and build community trust, in May. Because the department’s “open data team,” made up of both officers and civilians, went a step further than most by asking for input from the community about what data to make available, the White House asked Kasper to present her team’s strategy to about 100 other police leaders from around the country.

“We’re getting a little bit more in depth,” Kasper told the Gazette. “Everybody is doing things a little bit differently. There’s no uniform way.”

The talk, said Kasper, focused on a unique data set that highlights the many hours of training officers in the department log each year. 

“One of the questions that frequently pops up is, are you sending your officers to training?” Kasper said. “We’ve been keeping track of that for years so it was easy for us to take our existing data and make it available.”

Capt. John Cartledge and Kasper gave the presentation, which came during a forum for police departments that have signed on to the national initiative. Through the program departments are given tools to create open data portals, which display statistics including those on arrests, firearms and motor vehicle stops. Some demographic information is also provided, like the race of drivers stopped by police in a given year as well as a breakdown of the races, ethnicities and genders represented within the department.

“I was really excited to get on board with it,” Kasper said.

The Northampton Police Department is one of 65 nationwide to join the initiative, born of the President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — a federal body charged with making police departments more trustworthy in the aftermath of massive protests against police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City last year.

Kasper said this program struck her as a perfect opportunity to improve relations with police in the city. Participating departments hold biweekly White House-led conference calls to discuss strategies and methods for collecting and publishing data.

“Things have changed, so we all have to stay on top of those changes,” said Kasper.

While soliciting suggestions from the public, Kasper and her team found that many people were concerned with how many firearms licenses are being given out in the area and how many firearms confiscations were taking place. (Kasper noted that this concern closely followed a deadly nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida). Those statistics have now been added to the department’s Open Data Portal, a part of the department’s website where the new data can be searched and viewed.

“It’s a really important part of what we’re doing,” she said, “to be more open about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

As the program moves forward, Kasper said she aims to build “trust and legitimacy and better understanding” of policing in the community.

“It’s a learning opportunity for everybody,” said Kasper.

Isaac Burke can be contacted at iburke@umass.edu.

http://northamptonpd.com/open-data-portal.html

 

 




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