Nicholas Adams Judge


Fixing the Data Problem in Police Accountability

RootProject is partnering with Dr. Jared Knowles, founder of Civilytics, to raise funds for a pilot project aimed to empower community advocates seeking police accountability and justice reform.

“Today, one of the major barriers to actually inclusive civic discourse is the government’s reliance on technical expertise. Even local government services such as police, fire protection, and education, now rely on networks of experts to manage and direct their work. This reliance on expertise results in government that reflects the values of the experts advising it, not those of the broader public it serves. The public comes to view government run this way as something imposed upon it. This is the paradox of democratic accountability — government needs technical expertise to carry out its work, but the public needs to retain oversight to ensure that work reflects the democratic will.” — Jared Knowles

Jared is a political scientist researching the challenges that government reliance on technical expertise, including data analysis and performance management, poses to public participation in a democratic society. In his previous work as a data analyst for the state of Wisconsin, Jared built a machine learning student performance analysis tool for educators. Jared’s statewide model for identifying at-risk students in high school won an award from the LaFollette School of Public Policy at UW-Madison and was featured in local and national press. He found that the key to the success of this project was not the complexity of the algorithm or the size of the dataset, but the inclusion of many perspectives in the design process.

Now, he using this process to build the infrastructure needed to support inquiry into the performance of local police departments. Civilytics — an independent data science company that builds public sector analytic solutions — long-term road map is to build data tools that put the power of accountability, oversight, and performance management in the hands of the public to build a data and analytic commons.

About the Campaign

Campaign funds will support Jared in building an open source interactive tool to compare multiple aspects of the performance of all 18,000+ police departments across the country. The project goals are to: 1) build a free, transparent online tool that the public can use to evaluate their local police department on multiple measures, 2) give historically marginalized communities a prominent voice in the design of the tool and the analytics it includes, and 3) serve as a proof of concept of the infrastructure needed to promote a new form of public accountability for government.

Screenshots from the prototype showing different forms of user interaction and information display

When asked to talk a bit about the need for this work, Jared wrote:

“The reason such tools don’t exist yet is owed to the fact that the development process is slowed by incorporating stakeholders. But stakeholder input and buy-in is essential to achieving empowerment, giving the tool legitimacy.” The extra time taken during the design process, is essential to achieving the vision of building a successful platform for democratic accountability in policing that empowers community advocates seeing police and justice reform.

This project will inform public understanding in three ways. First, it will make actionable information on the performance of police departments readily accessible in a free, interactive, and easy-to-use way. Second, it will serve the interests of underrepresented constituencies; this contrasts with existing tools for police data, which primarily answer questions driven by the goal of attracting potential home-buyers to websites to sell ads. Third, it will serve as a resource that both police departments and advocates can gather around for evidence-based discussions of police performance relative to peers.

The project’s final product will have four components: 1) the interactive tool for exploring police analytics described above; 2) a website that hosts the tool alongside user guides for each of the audiences (advocates, police, media, and academics) on how to interpret the analytics and use them in public deliberation; 3) public availability of all data, code, and documentation to enable outside auditing since the ability of others to reproduce and verify every aspect of the tool is essential to creating analytics with the credibility and authority necessary to be useful for stakeholders; and 4) a process for accepting ongoing community contributions to enhance and extend the tool — participation that is made possible by publishing the data and calculations.

To begin this process, Jared has gathered over 35 years of local police performance data from 18,000 police departments and built a prototype to explore patterns in police arrests. Jared will use this existing prototype to engage stakeholders from communities in a human-centered design process. The roadmap below describes the milestones and the estimated fundraising amount necessary to complete this work.

$20,000 — Initial design meetings and planning with stakeholders.

  • Design meetings held with at least two community advocacy organizations with experience in police advocacy.
  • The results of these design meetings will be used to develop the initial product design.
  • Key expenses will be for stakeholder participation and contracting design experts to help facilitate the design meetings

$40,000 — Stakeholder-designed prototype

  • A design firm will work with Civilytics to decide on the design of the product.
  • The results of these design conversations will be shared with stakeholders.

$85,000 — Revised prototype + data documentation, user guides

  • A prototype will be developed implementing the stakeholder design
  • Virtual and in-person design meetings will be held with stakeholders to unveil the prototype, discuss features, and generate revisions.
  • Using feedback from these design meetings, Jared will write the user guides and documentation to support the use of the tool.
  • A writer/copyeditor will be contracted to assist with user guides and documentation, a design firm will provide input on the design of the tool, and Jared will work on the data acquisition, preparation, and development of metrics and analytics.

$120,000 — Publication and dissemination to stakeholders of their tool

  • Jared will travel to stakeholders and show them the tool and provide them any necessary training in the use of the tool.
  • At this time all training materials, user guides, and documentation will be run by stakeholders and their feedback will inform the final revisions.
  • A copyeditor will be contracted to assist with final production of all user guides and documentation. Stakeholders will be compensated to serve on a review panel and assist in developing and improving the tool and user guides.

$175,000 — Ownership transfer

  • To have transformative impact the entire tool and all documentation will be published on GitHub and be open for community input, improvement, and forks.
  • Transferring ownership to the public requires preparing all the source code, developing contributor guidelines, and building a welcoming and clear contribution process.

RootProject is beyond excited to announce this partnership with Jared and Civilytics. The total budget for the project is $175,000, which will come from a combination of crowdfunding and private donor revenue.

We look forward to keeping you updated on Jared’s progress throughout the campaign. Stay tuned for ways to support Jared. Any questions about the campaign or the project can be directed to

About RootProject

By applying blockchain technology to crowdfunding, RootProject makes it easier to fund the things we care about most. We leverage the power of smart contracts to collect zero fees on the crowdfunding campaigns that RootProject supports. Instead of collecting a typical crowdfunding fee, a percentage of funds raised purchases ROOTS tokens on the open market, thus driving the price up. We call this the currency-as-fee model. By locking our ROOTS tokens away for just a year or two, we are able to return all funds to our partner organizations and partner projects so all of your contribution is going directly to the nonprofit organization and not to administrative fees.

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