Police Data Petition Update: May 15 City Council Meeting

Jaime Matthews, Assistant to the City Manager, and Scott Barnwell, Business and Public Technology Manager in the IT department, presented the staff report promised after Patrick Conant presented the Petition for Police Accountability Through Data Transparency at the April 24 Asheville City Council meeting.

The report was short on details and City Council members were not pleased. While a few of the easier requests are being fulfilled, five key datasets were not addressed, with staff citing a need for further discussion, proposing a new process of data engagement with the community.

The Council has asked that staff report back at the June meeting with much more concrete results. As Mayor Manheimer put it, they want to see “exactly what’s being requested, and whether we do collect that data now, or not. Whether we do collect it in a format that is easy to release or not. And then, if yes, yes, we collect it, and we have it, then what is the barrier to producing that information to the public? What is the other reason that we can’t do that? And if there is a barrier, then what is the alternative?”

The mayor invited Code for Asheville’s Patrick Conant, who has led the petition effort, to comment immediately after the staff presentation. Patrick made three key points. First, he called out the underlying issue: that the Asheville Police Department does not want to move forward on data transparency. Second, he pointed out that the proposed process is flawed in that it gives staff the power to unilaterally block the release of any dataset and asked that the City work with the community to create a more balanced process, with City Council having final say. Third, he asked that City Council update the open data policy to clearly state that any data that is public record can be released as open data on request by the community through a straightforward process.

Check out the video of the presentation, discussion and response here.

Please continue to sign and share the petition. We have over 1000 combined signatures online and in person, and have the endorsement of over 30 organizations and businesses. Let’s keep it going!