Why Sharing Data Matters to Your Agency and Community

Like many law enforcement agencies, the Ferndale, Michigan, Police Department (FPD) experienced a learning curve when it came to publishing open data. Open data is a term for any form of data that can be downloaded and manipulated by members of the public. For example, law enforcement agencies may share data about calls for service, traffic collisions, complaints, and assaults on officers. This data can be used to inform the community about public safety issues and empower them to assist with problem solving efforts. As the concept of publicly sharing law enforcement data becomes more prevalent in the United States and as a community of about 20,000 people in only five square miles, the FPD, a force of 38 officers, had to get creative in how they dedicated resources and manpower to the release of this data.

ferThe FPD was then approached by the University of Michigan with a proposal for collaboration. As part of the agreement, the University would provide students to work on the cleaning and publishing of data and the FPD would provide the data, along with the mechanism to publish it. FPD saw this as an opportunity to leverage the skills of these students, build relationships, and benefit the community.

Having decided to release some open data, FPD then had to decide what datasets to make publicly available. A community taskforce was convened that included residents, community groups, academic representatives, and other key stakeholders to select data topics. This helped FPD narrow in on the topics the community wanted to see released. FPD officers thought they knew what type of data the community would want to see, in particular FPD’s 10-year historical arrest data, but to their surprise, the community was less interested in arrest data and more interested in community engagement metrics and data about who the FPD officers were.

2Based on the information from the taskforce, the FPD releases traditional crime statistics such as arrests and calls for service, but additionally releases unique datasets based on the community’s interests. One of the most popular is a dataset with the number of and locations of FPD officers administering naloxone to those experiencing an opioid drug overdose. Not only has this dataset enlightened the community about how frequently naloxone treatments are being administered, but it has also been used as a resource for those seeking help for their loved ones. This dataset has become a reassurance to concerned friends and family members that FPD is doing its best to address the opioid epidemic as it takes form in Ferndale.

By putting in place a formal contract with the University of Michigan and continuing to leverage the skills of students, the FPD has ensured the longevity and success of the program. Additionally, the FPD now has access to the county open data initiative which can be used for various data modeling purposes. Given these resources, FPD’s only extra expense has been the time of the sergeant who manages the data release. While these exact resources may not be as readily available to all agencies, looking to neighboring agencies for assistance or county/state resources can often help alleviate some of the financial burden.

Data can provide a community a clearer picture about the true nature of policing and a better understanding of how and why agencies do what they do. Focusing on the type of data the community wants to see is one way to keep them engaged in the law enforcement agency.

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This blog post is part of a series highlighting community understanding and respect of law enforcement. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.


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