There is a new phrase gaining popularity in the policing community, “Transparency equals Accountability.” This has been enabled through a variety of tools that provide insight to the operations of the policing in a community. While one might think the implementation of transparency is the end of the conversation with a strong positive action by progressive leaders, it is only the beginning. Forward looking police chiefs are preparing for the next developments while they implement transparency to get ahead of the community reactions.
Here is What to Expect When an Agency Provides Transparency
After rolling out Arx Community transparency dashboards with lots of agencies, we’ve seen some basic phases that agencies and their communities go through as they begin engaging in this new way. Here are the five things we’ve observed happen.
#1: They’ll hold a parade!
The first reaction from opening the door on police statistics is usually positive. Okay, there won’t really be a parade, but some chiefs have been recognized by the community for their openness and desire to change the conversation around policing. One chief even got an award from their local NAACP chapter. The symbolism is strong, and it does grow some political capital for the chief and other leaders that support the effort.
#2: They’ll dive into the data
After the parade, it is normal for citizens to dig into the data to understand what is happening in the police statistics and the meaning of those numbers. The use of the website providing data to the community will spike as they delve into the available figures. There might even be calls for additional transparency or questions about how certain items are measured.
#3: They’ll question policing tactics
Inevitably, some the statistics will demonstrate a level of bias in the policing in a community. This is to be expected as it would be unusual for crime to be perfectly distributed across geography and race and sex within a community. There is almost always an over representation in one of these areas. If the rate of arrests of black citizens is 64% and the community only has a 10% black population, there will be questions about the tactics and reasons that yielded those figures. This is potentially a time to engage with a consultant that has expertise in these types of difficult and emotionally charged conversations.
#4: Community engagement moves to a new level
There are two potential responses to questions about the figures and the tactics. The first is to shut down and not respond, or perhaps indicate that it would be inappropriate to discuss tactics and methods. This is a path to inflaming a community that now has data behind their complaints. Progressive leaders are willing to engage in a controlled dialog with the community, explaining the reasons why the data looks as it does. Sometimes, this additional clarity is enough, other times, changes are needed when the leader reflects on the historical approaches of the force. It has become normal to regularly report on policing performance in a manner that allows conversation with the community and to grow understanding. This could be an annual policing report at a town hall or even more frequent. Many agencies using Arx say that the Arx Community transparency dashboard makes City Council and community organization meetings incredibly productive and creates a collaborative environment.
#5: Leaders will make changes
When the second is true and there really is a problem in the policing, changes can be made to at least partially address the issues raised. This is a positive development since the chief can determine the how of the changes rather than being dictated by others without the understanding of the community. Many times this involves taking a closer look at technology to help with accountability. Other times, this means a call for a change in the laws that are being enforced to change the profile of the enforcement.
Police Transparency is Inevitable
Transparency is coming to policing. The calls from the community are growing too loud to ignore. Knowing what comes after the transparency allows the leader to make needed changes before the community calls for them and become a proactive leader. Take a look at the transparency evolution that agencies like your have made. Whether you are feeling the pressure or trying to get ahead of issues, the time is now to start down the path of police transparency.