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RCPD data portal opens~ RH September 29, 2015

RCPD data portal opens
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
Staff Writer | September 29,2015
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo Bradley GoodHale, left, and Dave Covell, of the Rutland City Police Department, review a variety of raw crime data being published to the department’s website on Monday afternoon.
 

With the Rutland City Police Department’s new data portal that went live Monday, anyone can search for information about such things as police use of force or community involvement.

“These first statistics can continue to foster the trust we’ve built and foster transparency,” Acting Chief David Covell said. “It gives the public information. Right now, we are releasing use of force data and community engagement.”

The RCPD data portal is an outgrowth of the department’s involvement in President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing, which was announced in December to improve policing and the community’s trust in police.

“We are the smallest agency and the only department in Vermont participating,” Covell said.

Departments involved in the initiative include much larger police forces such as Los Angeles and New Orleans.

They will release a combined total of 101 data sets — use of force, police pedestrian and vehicle stops, and officer-involved shootings, to name a few — not previously available to the public, according to the President’s initiative.

But it isn’t an easy endeavor to get the data in an accessible spreadsheet format for the public, Bradley GoodHale, RCPD crime analyst, said.

GoodHale has been instrumental in getting the portal open this week, which meant manually entering some of the information for the data sets. But the raw data offers new opportunities for the public, he said.

In the past, summarized data was available and FBI Uniform Crime Reports often contained different information by different police departments, he said.

The new portal offers interested individuals the opportunity to search raw, unanalyzed data — which was one of the goals of Obama’s initiative.

“We’ve got the information out in front, and people can come to their own conclusions,” GoodHale said.

Covell elaborated.

“If people were concerned about the use of Tasers by the police or if they thought the police department was using force for mental health problems, they could look at use of force data to see what is happening in reality,” he said.

To go to the site, enter data.rutlandcitypolice.com into a search engine (do not Google the address); the use of force data and the community engagement data is available for the first six months of 2015. With use of force information, such things as date and time, race of officer, race of suspect, ages, type of force, reason for using force, injuries and arrest outcome are available.

During that time period, out of 433 arrests, there were 36 use of force incidents and 18 arrests; or about one percent of arrests involve some type of force.

Covell said use of force is defined as any action used when the suspect does not cooperate, from using hands to drawing a firearm.

“We didn’t have any taser deployments,” Covell said. “It’s good to collect the data, but then to be able to stand back and look at it.”

The same type of information is true for community engagement: date and time, officer name, where they went in the community and what they did.

Covell said they hope to have this information published ahead of time in the future, in case someone wants to know where an officer will be on a certain day.

Every Thursday since May, GoodHale has participated in a conference call with the White House and the other police departments involved in the initiative. And during these conversations, departments share what they are doing, challenges and new ideas, he said.

As part of the data collection effort, participating police departments must find ways to make the data open to the public in a machine-readable format, which means anyone could research and find all data easily, Covell said.

The release of data is a staged process and as soon as it is in a format that the public can access it will be made available, Covell said. The next phase is the release of actual incident and arrest data, but GoodHale said they are still researching how to get all the data entered into the portal.

Long before the White House invitation, Rutland officers started developing data mapping of crime statistics and using that data to target crime areas more quickly. City police can pinpoint specific days, times and locations of high-crime activity. And the public can go to www.crimereports.com, in the search box, type Rutland City VT, and a map of Rutland City is displayed with crimes by street.

GoodHale said another nice feature of this is, individuals can zoom into a street and sign up for email crime alerts.

“The open-data initiative is another way in which the Rutland City Police Department can continue to be on the forefront of best policing practices in the country,” Covell said. “Certainly, having a better informed community as to what is going on in their neighborhoods and at their police department creates a greater sense of trust.”

kathleen.phalentomaselli @rutlandherald.com

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