The state of California has allocated new funding to the Police Records Access Project aimed to create a comprehensive, statewide database of police misconduct and use-of-force records, the latest development in a cross-domain effort in support of police accountability.
Over the past two years, a cross-domain effort by journalists, data scientists, researchers and advocates has worked to gather and process records from law enforcement agencies on use of force and misconduct cases.
The announcement of the resources for the statewide database is the latest development in the effort.
“Berkeley’s Institute for Data Science, Graduate School of Journalism and partners will collect, curate and make accessible records that a 2019 state law unlocked for the public. It will help communities, journalists, public defenders, prosecutors, and police departments develop a deeper understanding of California policing,” according to a news release by the Berkeley College of Computing, Data Science and Society.
“There is an information gap getting in the way of protecting people,” said Saul Perlmutter, the faculty director of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS) in the news release. “Using data science and artificial intelligence to make that connection offers a classic example of the promises of modern information technologies.”
Big Local News has been one of the partners involved in the work, from coordinating public records requests, entering and processing data and facilitating journalism in concert with the California Reporting Project, a statewide news collaboration. Big Local News and its news partners have trained dozens of students to extract essential information from police reports and create a structured database, explored ways to utilize technology to analyze and understand the records, provided technical support for the development of the database and assisted in data collection efforts through public records requests.
Reporters, including Stanford and Berkeley students, have already used this data to expose disparities and lack of accountability.
But, there is more work to be done. The $6.87 million funding from the state of California will transform the project and accelerate progress toward transparency and accountability.
Once available to the public, the database will have a range of potential applications: hiring officers will be able to assess candidates’ past conduct from other departments in California, offering a more comprehensive evaluation process; prosecutors and public defenders will have the ability to scrutinize the credibility of police officers involved in court cases, enhancing the fairness of the justice system; communities and families affected by policing incidents will gain access to detailed information, enabling them to gain insights into specific incidents and officers involved; reporters will be able to report on police misconduct and uses of force through a comprehensive database.
The effort also can be a model for other similar efforts across the country.
“We are making and we’ve made enormous progress. We’re extremely optimistic and we think that this funding from the state is exactly what we’re going to need to get this thing to the finish line,” said David Barstow, chair of Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, in the UC-Berkeley news release. Barstow is helping lead the project. “If we can solve this problem here, it could be enormously consequential.” “This news is a great next step in what is an innovative, cross-domain effort to make police accountability records accessible for journalism and the public,” said Cheryl Phillips, founder and director of Big Local News.
Read journalists’ findings based on CLEAN and California Reporting Project collaborations
- Los Angeles Times: What secret files on police officers tell us about law enforcement misconduct
- The Mercury News: One Bay Area city, 73 dog bites and the law that made them public
About Big Local News
From its base at Stanford University, Big Local News gathers data, builds tools and collaborates with reporters to produce journalism that makes an impact. Its website at biglocalnews.org offers a free archiving service for journalists to store and share data. Learn more by visiting our about page.