As the country continues to debate police reform, the conversation can be undermined by a lack of agreed-upon underlying facts. That’s because data about police conduct and disparate impacts of policing often doesn’t exist, is hard to find, or is being collected by the police themselves. Now, a publicly accessible platform of data and analytics on police activity may serve as that shared resource—and help communities achieve accountability and advocate for better policy.
The interactive web app, Justice Navigator, is the result of a collaboration between the Center for Policing Equity (CPE)—a nonprofit that collects and analyzes data around police use of force, vehicle stops, and pedestrian stops—and Google.org, the tech giant’s philanthropic arm. The CPE has been gathering data in this area since the 2012 killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, placing extensive reports in a repository called the National Justice Database. The new tool will be able to distill these long and overwhelming reports into visually appealing and digestible assessments, allowing people to clearly see policing disparities—and their causes—across races.
“The Justice Navigator is a radically new way to access not just the data, but the analytics from it,” says Phillip Atiba Goff, cofounder and CEO of the CPE. “[It’s] now available to people in both law enforcement who want to make change, and communities who want to hold them accountable to that change.”
The problem lay in the fact that the reports, thousands of pages long, took months to produce, and were lengthy and hard to understand. Google.org joined the project in 2017, attracted to working with the CPE because it was “small and scrappy, with an ambitious goal of reimagining community safety,” says Maab Ibrahim, who leads Google.org’s racial justice and inclusion initiatives. Google.org brought in a team of 10 fellows and a $5 million investment to help expedite the reports, eventually halving the processing time. Now, after a series of more investments, a second round of 14 Google.org fellows has built the interactive site to transform “PDF reports to something much easier to understand and navigate and replicate across cities,” Ibrahim says.
The data specifically focuses on the three data points because they are more measurable and available across departments—and, crucially, can help analyze the rates across different racial groups. “The simple production of data can lead to further ideological entrenchment,” Goff says. “That doesn’t keep Black folks any safer. It just makes us angrier.”
Now it’s also possible to see what is driving those numbers. For instance, in Sacramento, even after factoring in crime rates, poverty, and the share of Black residents, the findings showed that Black people were still subjected to force 4.4 times as often as white people.
The CPE has had to work with police departments directly in order to access information, Goff says, because the national crime data is extremely poor. Google.org was able to set machines to efficiently find signs of potentially negligent or skewed reporting by police departments. “If you see a place in Mississippi that for three months had no use of force for Black people but 20 uses of force per month, probably that’s not true,” Goff says. “Google set us up to be able to trust law enforcement—or, to know when we can’t.”
The reports used to be passed privately to police departments, and made public only at the departments’ discretion. But since last summer’s nationwide protests over racial justice, demand for transparency is much higher. The CPE has thus decided to make all of its work public, in hopes of empowering communities to advocate for what they need, or don’t need (such as any more police presence). For example, after working with CPE’s data, the Berkeley Police Department in California has limited low-level traffic enforcement in order to reduce racial disparities.
The tool launches on September 29 with accessible assessments for San Diego and Sacramento; more of the 100-plus reports already in the National Justice Database will continue to roll out. The CPE and Google.org want to take due time to publicize data for communities, saying it’s irresponsible to rush it for people who live these experiences. “We never wait for the data when we want to punish Black communities,” Goff says. “The goal of this is to give those folks the tool that they have asked for.”