Seattle PD CIO’s 4 Critical Components to the Open Policing Movement

February 23, 2016 11:00 am PST | Data as a Service

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are searching for ways to improve operations and increase public trust. Civic unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and Chicago, and from voices of the #BlackLivesMatter movement have called for greater accountability. For Bill Schrier, CIO of Seattle’s Police Department, these incidents have marked a turning point in increasing accountability for his officers as well as for citizens. During a recent webinar, Schrier said, “One of the issues that came out during these incidents is the need for better transparency and openness and a need for police departments to better engage their communities.”

Transparency, of course, starts with data. In the aftermath of these incidents, the Police Data Initiative emerged from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing efforts, seeking to connect technology industry leaders, law enforcement, and government agencies to accelerate progress around data transparency and analysis. Schrier was one of the community leaders who testified before the Task Force about the need for transparency and has been an advocate for use of open data and social media for increasing engagement within communities.

This new policing movement required local law enforcement agencies to make a cultural shift, according to Schrier. In many cases, police departments needed to evolve from the “warrior mentality” to a “guardian mentality” where they helped citizens better engage in their own public safety. The best way to do that, from Seattle Police Department’s perspective, is to provide open data and information. The data that Schrier recommends sharing includes 911 reports, complaints, uses of force, and officer involved shootings as a starting point.

Schrier identified four components that are critical for law enforcement agencies looking to improve their relationship with the community:

Transparency: In Seattle, the police department shares all crime incidents and 911 calls at, which is an open data site created by the city and powered by Socrata. Unleashing the raw data along with map based visuals with powerful filtering tools, it helps citizens understand what is happening in their neighborhoods..

Data Driven Goals: The city of Seattle has created performance goals to measure effectiveness of the cities programs. Hosted on, the public has information on the goals that are being set by agencies within the city and current results. For example, the Seattle PD set a goal in 2015 for reducing monthly car prowls by 15 percent. The department shared data monthly so residents could see how they were tracking against this goal and could see when the goal was achieved.

Narrative: Providing data isn’t enough. Context is critical to create data-driven stories. Citizens need to understand what the data means, why the goals are important, and information on how the goals are being met. Seattle has long used tools like the SPD Blotter and “Tweets by Beat” to provide contextual information to police activity. Seattle has recently started using  Socrata Perspectives, a powerful and intuitive platform for data driven storytelling. Using the Perspective solution, law enforcement agencies can take data, include a message from the Chief of Police, and add quotes and text, side by side with the numbers and visualization maps.

Community Engagement: Citizens consume information in many ways, which requires law enforcement agencies to consider alternative channels for communication. The Seattle PD has embraced several channels including Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, where contributors across the city overlay data with commentary and work with public information officers to answer citizen questions. Seattle also hosts open forums and invites citizens to join the conversation and get a better view into what the open data means for the community.

The movement towards more open and transparent policing is underway in the United States. Through the genuine efforts of leaders like Bill Schrier and Chief O’Toole in Seattle, we are experiencing an unprecedented level of engagement and transparency between police departments and the communities that they serve. However, community and police leaders agree that there is a lot of work left to do. While there is plenty of opportunity to improve transparency practices, it’s important to remember that that this movement is a marathon and not a sprint.  

To start that marathon, law enforcement needs to begin taking proactive steps around data release, narrative, and engagement. Seattle sets a great example.

You can learn more by watching our webinar with Bill Schrier here.

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