Open Data and Transparency

Tracking & Analytics


The transparency created by open data promotes co-ownership of gun violence reduction with community members. To promote these principles, many agencies have increasingly begun sharing open data with the public.1National Police Foundation, “Police Data Initiative,” accessed June 13, 2019,; Laura Neitzel, “How Police Can Benefit from Open Data,” PoliceOne, August 31, 2018, Unlike the information typically released by law enforcement agencies, such as crime statistics and published reports, open data are raw, detailed data that can be downloaded and analyzed by members of the public at no cost and without restriction.2Ibid. Because open data are presented at the incident or unit level, rather than aggregated or summarized, they offer greater transparency and can give the community a more complete understanding of agency operations and performance.3Police Foundation, Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide to Open Data,” 3-8;  Neitzel, “How Police Can Benefit”; Alisha Green, “The Landscape of Municipal Crime Data,” Sunlight Foundation, September 10, 2013, Examples of open data shared by police agencies include raw data sets of calls for service, use-of-force incidents, and arrests. These data sets can often be extracted from the agency’s existing records and then shared with the public through an online open data portal, often using the agency’s own website.4National Police Foundation, Open Data and Policing: A Five-Part Guide to Best Practices, Part II: Practices for Opening Data (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 2018), 2-3; National Police Foundation, Open Data and Policing, A Five-Part Guide to Best Practices, Part III: Sharing Open Data (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 2018), 1-3; Neitzel, “How Police Can Benefit.” To better promote community engagement and trust, it is useful for police agencies to collaborate with community members when developing an open data strategy.5Police Foundation, “Open Data and Policing,” 2-3.


Sharing open data can provide many benefits to both the jurisdiction sharing the data and the community as a whole. Ultimately, open data is “a critical tool for supporting the community in the co-production of public safety, which is the essence of community policing.”6Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11. Other benefits include increased agency transparency and accountability; greater community trust in the police; the generation of new ideas and solutions to problems; a better understanding within the agency about the public safety issues facing the community; a better understanding among community members about police operations, performance, and resources; and the ability to measure and analyze criminal justice outcomes over time.7Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11; National Police Foundation, Open Data and Policing,” 1-2.

Necessary Resources

Many law enforcement agencies already have the resources they need to begin the process of releasing open data, including an agency website, data sets, and the ability to link a downloadable file to the website.8Police Foundation, Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide, 4. Some agencies also partner with data experts, local universities, community groups, and other organizations that can provide staffing, training, and technical assistance regarding data quality and presentation.9Erica Finkle, “4 Steps to Manage Privacy and De-Identification for Your Open Data Program,” DataSF, accessed June 13, 2019,; DataSF, “Open Data Release Toolkit,” accessed June 13, 2019,; Neitzel, “How Police Can Benefit”; Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 3-8.

Strategy in Practice


There are many factors that law enforcement agencies should consider as they develop a plan for compiling and sharing open data. For example, when deciding which data to release, the agency must consider what data are currently available (e.g., calls for service, incident reports, complaints), what data will be the most valuable to the community, and whether there are any privacy issues with releasing the data.10Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11. Agencies must also consider the method they will use to share the data (e.g., via a portal on the agency’s website), ways to engage the community in the open data process, and how to ensure that data are secure, accessible, high-quality, and regularly updated.11Sunlight Foundation, “Crime and Transparency,” accessed June 13, 2019,; Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11.

Common Barriers

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the release of open data does not violate privacy concerns.12Blake Valenta, “How to Open Data While Protecting Privacy,” Data-Smart City Solutions (posted on Government Technology), October 6, 2017, This is especially true for data sets involving sensitive material relating to domestic violence, data involving youth, and other, similar cases.13Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11. When deciding whether to release such data, agencies must balance the value of publishing such data with an individual’s expectation of privacy, repercussions to individuals if they are identified, and the likelihood of identification through the data.14Finkle, “4 Steps to Manage Privacy.” If agencies do choose to release potentially sensitive data, they must take steps to “de-identify” any personal information.15Valenta, “How to Open Data.” One resource that agencies can consult when making decisions regarding sensitive data is the Open Data Release Toolkit, which was developed by data experts working for the City of San Francisco.16Ibid.; Finkle, “4 Steps to Manage Privacy”; DataSF, “Open Data Release Toolkit.” This toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for identifying sensitive or protected data, performing a risk assessment regarding the identifiability of the data, implementing privacy solutions (e.g., de-identification methods), and performing a risk assessment of de-identified data.17DataSF, “Open Data Release Toolkit.”

Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners

Partnerships can play a critical role in the design and implementation of an open data program. Key partners may include community groups, data experts, other local government agencies involved in the open data initiative, universities, and nonprofit and research organizations that focus on open data issues.18Police Foundation, “Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide,” 6-11; Police Foundation, “Open Data and Policing,” 4.

What Else You Need to Know

The Police Data Initiative (PDI) is a national initiative that promotes the use of open data to encourage trust, accountability, innovation, and problem-solving in the field of policing.19Police Foundation, “Police Data Initiative.” This is achieved through the resources provided on the PDI’s website, which features technical guidance, best-practices guides, and more than 200 data sets released by more than 130 law enforcement agencies. These data sets include, among other items, calls for service, complaints, assaults on officers, hate/bias crimes, officer-involved shootings, arrests, and use-of-force incidents. There is no cost for agencies to participate in the PDI, and all sizes and types of law enforcement agencies are welcome to join. Launched in 2015, the PDI is managed by the National Police Foundation and supported by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office).

In addition to publishing timely incident level data, your city should work towards submitting full incident level data the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, the National Use of Force Data Collection Program, the Hate Crime Statistics Program, and the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Program.

Newsroom & Resources

  • Open Data Release Toolkit

  • Police Foundation: Law Enforcement Executive’s Guide to Open Data

    Supporting the Community in the Co-Production of Public Safety

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  • The Sunlight Foundation

    Making government & politics more accountable & transparent.

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  • Government Tech: How to Open Data While Protecting Privacy

    San Francisco’s Open Data Release Toolkit offers detailed guidance on how departments can evaluate whether, and how, sensitive data sets should be made public.

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  • Police Foundation Open Data and Policing Best Practice Guide