Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies that have decided to make available open data should do so thoughtfully, and with consideration of the potential privacy and safety impacts that releasing such data could have.

Public Safety Professionals are entrusted with keeping information close in order to protect privacy interests of citizens and to ensure that those who would use data for criminal purposes do not have access. Police agencies can participate in open data innovation and initiatives without jeopardizing this trust or their responsibilities. The datasets displayed on this site are examples of such participation.

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

Open Data in Policing

Open Data 5 Things small_0Open data improves transparency, accountability, and legitimacy, enhancing the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve and protect. As described in the Police Foundation’s recent publication 5 Things You Need to Know About Open Data in Policing, open data can also be useful in creating an improved understanding of public safety. This in turn can help with facilitating community engagement regarding public safety issues and decisions, improving the relationship between the public and the police.

  • Why Open Data for Policing?

    Although policing work is often crime focused, open data is not only data about crimes, but rather data about the activity of policing, and interactions with citizens. While many datasets on this portal are Incident data, there are also many datasets portraying Calls for Service, Complaints, Community Engagement, and Officer Training, all of which present context for the role of a police officer. Making this data available to the public allows communities to understand what officers face on the job each day.


    • Provides greater context for police work (i.e. not just high profile events)
    • Increases opportunities for citizen feedback and community engagement
    • Can help agencies achieve key performance goals
    • Allows for the open source creation of new tools and data products that help accelerate or enhance all of the above

    DATA Guidance for Law Enforcement Agencies

    Privacy Considerations

    Open data is “Non-privacy-restricted and non-confidential data, which is produced with public money and is made available without any restrictions on its usage and distribution” ~ M. Janssen et al.* Given this, agencies opening data must take into account privacy and other laws. Commonly, agencies remove records related to juveniles, sexual assaults, and other sensitive reports. Others choose to remove only the sensitive portion, for instance, incident location and personally identifiable information. In lieu of personally identifiable information, an option the Police Foundation has seen in practice is to release broad demographic information (race, age, gender). Example: Rutland, VT Use of Force.

    Geographic Location
    The nature of jurisdiction-based law enforcement supports that many datasets include some geographic location information.

    Geographic Location falls into two categories: geodata and location. These can be contained within a single field or distinct ones.

    Geodata: Geocoding allows the ability to cast data spatially easily for mapping, and overlay visual data from multiple data sets and reference layers from other agencies. For instance, the Police Foundation was able to overlay homicide hotspots and Officer Involved Shooting fatalities in relation to hospital locations because the data was geocoded in Dallas, Texas (See our Stories Tab). Public data sets should include latitude and longitude whenever possible, not agency-specific X/Y systems.

    Location: Location is an address. Optionally, as noted in Dallas’ example, separate fields can be used for “block” and “street name”.

    TAKE NOTE: Location information should be reviewed before release. Steps should be taken to ensure that a crime victim’s privacy is not violated (by using street centerline geodata coordinates or 100-block identifiers for instance).

    CAD DATA Guidance for Law Enforcement Agencies

    Time Stamps
    Calls for service data typically comes from Computer Aided Dispatch systems, tracking dozens of time stamps per event.

    These can include but are not limited to:

    • when the event is initially opened
    • when police service is called for by a dispatcher
    • when the first unit arrives on scene
    • when all units clear

    A common theme among agencies in the White House Police Data Initiative is to include the time the record is initially opened. This should be noted in metadata. Several agencies also include the time an event is cleared, or total service time.

    TAKE NOTE: While including multiple time points is valuable, review these fields before releasing. For instance, if your agency often doesn’t reflect any time-stamps between initial call and closure, this may lead people to believe officers are on scene longer than they are, particularly if 9-1-1 call taking is handled by another agency or longer travel times are a factor.

    Because of the nature of how Calls for Service data is captured, it may be useful to include a disposition of that particular record.

    For instance:

    • multiple 9-1-1 calls about the same event may be logged
    • calls may be unfounded
    • actors found to be gone on arrival

    If your agency has an indicator, knowing a report will be written or arrest was performed is also very useful for analysis.

    Example: The New Orleans Police Department includes fields for both Disposition as a code and Disposition Text.

    • DUP = Duplicate
    • GOA = Gone on Arrival
    • RTF = Report to Follow
    • UNF = Unfounded.
    Nature of Event
    In Calls for Service data, the nature of the event describes the service type the agency handled.

    There are generally two times this is captured per record:

    • Initial creation time
    • Closing time

    Many agencies use unique event types to reflect the nature of events. While this is very useful on a micro level and in understanding an individual department’s records, cross-agencies inquiry benefits only from using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) codes. Incident numbers will allow data users to cross-reference your data release with other sets of data.

    For instance, 10,000 calls for service records may only amount to 2,000 incidents’ records.

    Learn More…

    Police Foundation Professional Services
    Need help?  Over the Police Foundation’s history, its leadership has insisted that the organization’s work have a practical impact on policing, that the knowledge gained through empirical investigation be such that it could be applied outside the “laboratory” with the end result being improvement in the way that police do their work. The foundation offers a range of professional services, including training, technical assistance, and technology.Contact the Police Foundation.

    1 Source: M. Janssen, Y. Charalabidis and A. Zuiderwijk, Benefits, adoption barriers and myths of open data and open government, Information Systems Management, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 258-268, 2012.