Introduction to Incidents

Incidents are “traditional police reports” documenting reported criminal occurrences, through digitalization they become part of a Records Management System (RMS).

“A [Records Management System] is an agency-wide system that provides for the storage, retrieval, retention, manipulations, archiving, and viewing of information, records, documents, or files pertaining to law enforcement operations. RMS covers the entire life span of records development, from initial generation until the process to which it is relevant is complete.” Harris, K., & Romesburg, W. (2002). Law enforcement tech guide how to plan, purchase and manage technology (successfully) : A guide for executives, managers and technologists. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Traditionally, agencies release a single incident report to the parties involved. Agencies also produce summary statistics, such as the data displayed in the FBI Uniform Crime Report. Additionally, at times agencies release specific incident data to media outlets.

With the advance of modern Records Management Systems, the ability to release structured, machine-readable data, in bulk, becomes more common practice. Through the Police Foundation’s systematic review of public safety open data, incidents are the most prevalently shared open data sets. Noted: some agencies focus on the release of crime data based on UCR categories.

Open Data and RMS

A growing and already substantial number of law enforcement agencies have and are making RMS data available.

Incident includes:

  • Felonious crimes: Uniform Crime Report Part 1 Crimes
  • Misdemeanor crimes: Uniform Crime Report Part 2 Crimes

Many agencies filter what portions of incident records are released; Information is redacted/anonymized in order to protect the privacy of citizens and the safety of the citizens and the officers.

For example, agencies are likely to remove:

  • Citizen’s name and address
  • Crimes against children
  • Sexual assaults
  • Juvenile offenders’ incidents and personal information
  • Officer’s name and badge number

Guidance for Law Enforcement Agencies

Agencies that have decided to make available open RMS data should do so thoughtfully, and with consideration of the potential privacy and safety impacts that releasing such data could have on the parties involved in the incidents.

As agencies think through the issues, examining what other agencies have done successfully is a good first step and seeking technical assistance as well as guidance, such as this blog post by Presidential Innovation Fellow Denice Ross and Police Foundation Vice President Jim Burch, which provides steps for agencies to consider when moving towards open data.