March 11, 2018

Petition for Police Accountability Through Data Transparency


CFA’s full request will be presented to Asheville City Council on Tuesday, April 24th.

The full request was presented to the City of Asheville Public Safety Committee on March 26th. The three Council members of the Public Safety Committee indicated their support for the proposal, and granted Code for Asheville’s request to present before a meeting of City Council. They also instructed City staff to provide feedback and an estimate of any costs to implement these proposals.

On the night of August 24–25, 2017, a local resident was brutally beaten by an Asheville Police Officer. Although the incident occurred in August, neither the public nor City Council learned of it until February 28, 2018, when a body camera video of the assault was provided to the Asheville Citizen-Times. In the days since the initial release, the incident has received national attention and caused significant outrage in the Asheville community. View all related videos released by the APD here.

Code for Asheville and other community groups have started a petition seeking reforms to increase the transparency and accountability of our police department. We hope to play a constructive role in addressing the structural issues that underlie the incident by creating a formal request for the timely release of critical datasets related to public safety. The release of these datasets will provide additional accountability within the Police Department, and the commitment to transparency by our City will start the long process of rebuilding community trust in our Police Department.

Code for Asheville’s full request may be found here 

If you’d like to get involved with Code for Asheville, please COME TO OUR MEETINGS and JOIN OUR EMAIL LIST.

Data transparency, on its own, will not solve issues of trust and accountability in Asheville. Nor is it a substitute for the wider work necessary to improve equity and justice throughout our City. However, this petition offers some initial common-sense steps to move our City in the right direction. As noted by the Police Data Initiative in a recent post on the value of releasing use-of-force data:
“When data is open, community members are empowered to assess the data directly. Releasing open data is more than a gesture of goodwill and trust on behalf of law enforcement agencies; it is a shrewd use of resources and a means of enlisting communities to solve some of their most entrenched crime problems. As such, it is a key component in the co-production of public safety.”
This is in line with the City’s Open Data Policy, adopted in October 2015, as well as the March 5 statement by City Manager Gray Jackson that there is “strong direction… from the City Council that in all matters, especially those involving police, the City should be as transparent as possible to its citizens.”
Transparency is also essential to providing the community with metrics with which to hold City departments, staff, and leadership accountable. In 2017, the Criminal Justice Committee of the Asheville/Buncombe chapter of the NAACP partnered with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and local web technology firm PRC Applications to present data and visualizations that highlighted systemic racial bias in traffic stop data. These organizations used public data to identify discrepancies in the information APD reported to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. After the reporting discrepancies were brought to the attention of APD, the Public Safety Committee, and eventually City Council, APD began reporting more accurate metrics on this issue, as well as performing quarterly audits. This illustrates a way that community members and organizations can use data to invoke greater transparency and demand more accountability for actions.
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Top photo: Morguefile