The Problem — Why OPC Matters

Police are responsible for maintaining public order, enforcing the law, and investigating crimes — yet no one really knows how well police are doing their jobs.

Until very recently, for example, the amount of publicly-available data on how many people are killed by police was scarce. Because the Federal Government had failed to compile the data in an accurate or reliable way, a host of non-governmental researchers stepped in to fill this gap. To the public’s astonishment, they revealed a two to four-fold increase in the number of deaths reported by government sources.

But if federal government data on police killings are scarce, data on non-deadly uses of force and other non-force incidents are practically non-existent.

The Obama administration sought to improve police oversight through a set of efforts. These included the White House Police Data Initiative, which sought to increase transparency by making policing data accessible to the public. The effort, which relies on voluntary cooperation with police departments, has stalled under the Trump administration. To date only 130 of an estimated 18,000 policing agencies have shared any data.

Simply put, policing data efforts that rely on department-released data will only capture part of the picture.

An important advantage of Open Police Complaints (OPC) is that we collect data directly from the people who experienced or witnessed police conduct. This new public data will, for example, allow researchers or police investigators to compare a single OPC traffic stop record with a police department’s record of the exact same event.

Unfortunately, most departments fail to collect or share any useful data about their contacts with the public. This can occur due to a general culture of hostility toward complainants. And oftentimes state and local laws block the release officer misconduct records from public view.

To counter this, OPC provides an alternative open data source whenever department transparency is lacking. Thanks to our standardized data collection model, we can collect and share policing data to tracking behavior patterns across all 18,000 policing agencies.

Better open data about deadly police shootings is just the beginning.
Once we collect a critical mass of user data, there’s practically no limit to how researchers, investigators, and others can view and use the crowdsourced data. For example, we can track individual officer and department behavior related to traffic stops — including frequency of searches and arrests based on the driver’s race, age, or gender. And by publicly tracking officers with a history of excessive force, we can embolden police chiefs to address officer misbehavior before it turns deadly.