California Is Getting Honest About Who Is Dying In Police Custody In A Bold Move Toward Transparency

This could change so much.

In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the heated national discussion that continues to rage about police brutality against minorities, California's Department of Justice is spearheading an effort to increase the amount of transparency in police work.

The initiative comes in the form of an online service called OpenJustice, which features data reaching back to 1980 in three broad categories: arrest rates, deaths in custody, and law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. The service is expected to improve operations while also letting the public know what's really going on.

Not only is the raw data available, but the Dashboard of the site features helpful visualization tools like graphs and charts to help people make sense of the information.

"Our office intends to use the data on the Justice Dashboard to help the public understand and engage with the criminal justice system in California," the website reads. "The media and academics will have reliable data to boost literature and research on evidence-based policy reforms. Policy makers will have new tools to inform their policy decisions, such as identifying the most important areas on which to focus."

OpenJustice lists the age, gender, and ethnicity of those who have been arrested.

The chart clearly shows that while black individuals are arrested in lower numbers than whites or Hispanics, the percentage of those arrests are grossly skewed relative to their population. 

However, the website makes an important point when it states that "not every individual who is arrested has committed a crime and not all individuals who committed a crime are arrested."

There are other factors like socioeconomic standing, that have not been accounted for, which could shed additional light on these figures.

More importantly, the site offers incredible insight into deaths that occur under police custody.

"OpenJustice is a tool that embraces transparency and data in the criminal justice system to strengthen public trust, enhance government accountability, and inform public policy. This initiative puts forward a common set of facts, data, and goals so that we can hold ourselves accountable and improve public safety," writes California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Not only does OpenJustice make the police accountable, the data can be used to keep cops safer as well.

The website tracks documented assaults on police officers, allowing them to identify the biggest threats to their safety.

Each assault is broken down by factors such as frequency, mode of attack, and time of day — and these variables are tracked over time to identify trends. 

This can help police be better prepared when they are in the field.

Fear for officer safety is often cited when routine traffic stops and arrests turn violent. By approaching situations differently depending on the risk of danger, officers may feel safer performing their duties, which could translate into better interactions with the public.

[Header image: iStockphoto]

[H/T: Gizmodo]