The Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday unveiled an online tool to allow the public to examine the frequency with which its officers stop people of a certain ethnic background or gender.
The interactive dashboard shows the demographic characteristics of people detained in traffic and suspicious-persons stops across the city, along with trends in the arrests of youths on curfew and truancy violations. Acting police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the new tool, a collaboration between the MPD and the city’s Civil Rights Department, was designed to increase transparency.
It is available on the department’s insideMPD.com/datadashboard website. The data will be refreshed every morning and can be exported via the city’s open data portal, officials said.
“That can be a helpful tool for us if there are teachable moments for us,” Arradondo said Tuesday, at a meeting of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC).
Some see the technology as a check on police misbehavior, potentially revealing whether racial profiling is a common problem in Minneapolis.
The policy change came after calls for greater police transparency by advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long argued that street stops disproportionately target ethnic minorities.
On Wednesday, an ACLU spokeswoman said the group was pleased with the data dump, which “can provide objective evidence of whether reforms have their intended effects or not.”
“This new access to data alone will not solve the racial disparities in arrests and other problems highlighted in our report, but it will help the community hold the police accountable for its actions,” said the spokeswoman, Jana Kooren. Previously, accessing such data was a costly and time-consuming process, she said.
With the new technology, a user can, for example, search for the outcome of every 911 call in one location in a particular time frame. In a demonstration Tuesday of how the technology works, a police data analyst found that there had been 27 suspicious person stops in south Minneapolis’ Central neighborhood during a certain period of time. With a few clicks, she generated a demographic breakdown of those encounters.
Officers will also be able to correct false information on the fly, Arradondo said.
“With race, if a citizen calls in and says ‘I believe there are two Native Americans males’ and officers respond to the call and we get there and the officers discover they are actually white males, we can change it,” he told the commission.
Arradondo, who cleared another hurdle to becoming the city’s police chief on Wednesday, inherits a police force that has faced more pressure for reform after the officer-involved shooting death of 40-year-old Justine Damond last month. In public statements since the shooting, the chief has vowed to restore the community’s trust.
He touted the new technology as part of a broader department effort to improve transparency in so-called Terry stops. But, he cautioned that the department was still working out bugs and would update the dashboard in the future, including making the information accessible to people without internet access.
For the dashboard, MPD analysts pulled information from the Mobile Digital Computers (MDCs) in their cruisers.
“There officers that will stop people and make contacts and engagements with them just by using their radio, which would not be captured on their MDCs,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “That has been added in there.”
The department started tracking the data last fall, after months of delays that officials blamed on technological snags.
Officers are now required to record demographic information — including a person’s gender and race involved in suspicious vehicle, suspicious person and other traffic stops — as well as the reason for the stop and whether a search was performed. The information must be entered on their in-car computer system before they can proceed to the next call. The department has also begun collecting data on police interactions with transgender people.
In April 2015, the PCOC released a report showing that city police officers often fail to give reasons for stopping and searching people without arresting them. Another study released that year by the ACLU criticized the department for disproportionately stopping blacks and American Indians.
At the time, department officials promised to release more data on the stops.
Several other large U.S. police forces already track so-called stop-and-frisk encounters.
In Newark, for example, officers for years been recording such information as the age, gender, race, sexual orientation and English proficiency from suspicious person stops. And police in Philadelphia last year created an online database of suspicious-pedestrian and suspicious-motorist data to its website, which is searchable, sortable and downloadable.