The United States is divided around the issue of police use of force. At the core of this divide is a pervasive lack of data — only 3% of 18,000 police departments report use of force incidents nationally. Bridge is a Bayes Impact initiative to provide open source software for law enforcement to improve police integrity and community relations through data.
In the United States, there is an astounding dearth of data about violent encounters between police officers and citizens. Only 3% of the nation’s 18,000 police departments report this information federally. The lack of comprehensive and timely information about police use of force is exacerbating the divide between officers and citizens. Public confidence in police has hit a 22 year low and every published video of police using force deepens the divide. As a nation, we need to rebuild trust between police officers and citizens, which begins witha fair and unbiased understanding of the issue at hand. That’s why we need better data and a lot more of it.
Why is there a lack of data? Use of force data collection and reporting is not mandatory at a federal level and few states have mandatory policies. Recent commitments by the FBI and promising legislation such as the PRIDE Act are revealing a path to change. Also, California is leading the way with the passage of Assembly Bill 71, a law requiring police departments in the state to report every use of force incident that results in serious injury or death according to a common data standard. Despite these efforts, we are still years away from nationwide data standards and ubiquitous reporting.
There is momentum in the policing community to publish data in order to provide more representative context to use of force incidents. However, police departments across the country struggle to report high quality, digital data because of the lack of data standards, kludgy software systems, and high costs. This is especially true for the 85% of law enforcement agencies with fewer than fifty officers that are strapped for IT resources.
That’s why we launched Bridge – to encourage police departments to publish data by lowering the technology barriers and building trust through citizen engagement. We’re building open source web tools for law enforcement to easily collect, report, and publish police use of force data according to a common data standard. Our first product is a web tool called URSUS, built with the CA Attorney General and Department of Justice to help all 800 law enforcement agencies in California collect and report use of force data. At no cost. We hope that work can give both officers and citizen a voice, laying the foundation for rebuilding trust between law enforcement and our communities.