Calif. DOJ unveils website with law enforcement data

The database is the culmination of months of work aimed at improving transparency and government accountability

By Tami Abdollah
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The California Department of Justice on Wednesday unveiled a state-run website to provide data on law enforcement's interactions with the public.

The database is the culmination of months of work aimed at improving transparency and government accountability after incidents sparked debate across the country on police practices over the last year.

"All of these incidents have encouraged a national dialogue about what is the relationship between law enforcement and communities we have served," state Attorney General Kamala Harris said at a news conference in Los Angeles.

"Part of this conversation should take place looking at the data," she said. "What are the numbers? What are the facts that we know that we can actually quantify that can influence public policy...How can we improve these numbers and improve the situation."

The initial "OpenJustice" dashboard includes three datasets: law enforcement officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty; deaths in custody, including arrest-related deaths; and arrests and bookings. State officials say the dashboard will likely be expanded to include additional data sets.

California appears to be the first state to try to democratize such data and easily provide it to the public, said Jim Bueermann, who heads the nonprofit Police Foundation.

"There may be some bumps in the short run, but in the long run, it will strengthen the relationships between the police and communities they're paid to protect," said Bueermann, a former Redlands, California, police chief. The foundation, which aims to improve police practices, has been outspoken about the need for standardized compulsory data reports from law enforcement across the country.

The website includes a brief analysis of the numbers, completed through a partnership between the state and professors at the University of California at Berkeley. Some conclusions so far are:

—California law enforcement agencies have reported 345 officer deaths between 1980 and 2014, with an average of about 10 officer deaths reported annually.

—There were 6,837 deaths in custody reported between 2005 and 2014, or an average of about 685 annually. Of the total, more than 61 percent were natural.

—About 76 percent of 1,202 arrest-related deaths reported from 2005 to 2014 were homicides by law enforcement officers or staff; the average age of the victim was 34 years old.

—Over the past 30 years, reported property and violent crimes have been cut in half.

—The arrest rate peaked in 1989. And men are about 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than women.

The office has also reached out to Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of Southern California to have their criminal justice and law professors and data scientists analyze the information and provide further details that could help improve law enforcement practices.

State officials realized they were sitting on a trove of data, which are required under various state laws to be reported to the California Department of Justice.

Harris has come out in support of a state Assembly bill that would require law enforcement to report use-of- force incidents against the public to the state. Officials say if the data is reported to them, it will also become part of what's provided to the public online.

Officials say they don't know of any other department with a similar effort and hope that their actions will inspire other states to follow suit.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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