Making Increased Police Transparency Work for Everyone

Making Increased Police Transparency Work for Everyone

How can leaders respond to concerns about transparency?

Typically, after a high-profile use-of-force or misconduct incident, there is a renewed call for transparency in law enforcement.  

Of course, complete transparency in police work is not always beneficial for the public or police. There are a number of legitimate concerns when it comes to making all of the information your agency handles freely accessible.

Nonetheless, transparency has real value for the agency or department in question.

As a leader with a goal of increased transparency, here’s how you can respond to questions raised about the benefits.  

Concern: Some popular transparency methods are considered ineffective.

Data suggests that body cameras or the release of officers' identities at the initial incident stage, for example, have not had a significant impact on the overall frequency of misconduct by LEOs.

Response: Efforts at transparency can still be valuable.

Rather than a tool for singling out officers, body cameras can illuminate personnel problems that can be addressed over time (through better training, for instance).

Body cameras also provide a real-time, uncensored window into everyday life in a community, allowing agencies a more accurate picture of the challenges there.

Better yet, leaders can develop a more holistic transparency plan that incorporates more effective tactics than just body cameras and public relations.  

For example, stronger recordkeeping and reporting can strengthen community trust. Despite your best intentions, being unable to make requested information readily available can be perceived as stonewalling or covering up misconduct within your ranks. Having robust data management systems allows you to provide timely and reliable information when needed.

And for a truly forward-thinking strategy, address the root causes of misconduct through early intervention, reevaluating your hiring practices, and improving your FTO program.  

Concern: Compromised investigations and confidentiality

Clearly, law enforcement needs to keep some portion of its work confidential. Information that could make handling a case less effective—or that could unethically expose sensitive data—should be justifiably kept secret.

Response: Sensitive data can still be protected.  

Through proactive leadership and highly secure technology solutions that offer robust permission and reporting parameters, a high level of transparency can still allow for keeping sensitive data confidential.

Per a piece on PoliceFoundation.org, law enforcement agencies that carefully consider which types of data to protect can do so—and control what is available on public-facing online interfaces—while still providing information that satisfies the public. Agencies can even automate the process of uploading data to public interfaces by connecting to their data management system.

Concern: Increased scrutiny and criticism

As the amount of information available increases, there is a greater chance that the public will call into question the value or quality of your decisions or performance.

Police officers regularly encounter complex high-stakes situations, and they might be concerned that what is provided to the public does not accurately reflect reality or provide enough context. They also might feel the pressure of impossible standards placed on them by the public or government officials.

Response: The spotlight isn't as harsh as it seems.  

While some critics will always seize upon data that is unfavorable to police, it's more often the case that presenting the bigger picture and being transparent with the community has a positive effect. When they're willing to provide transparency, law enforcement agencies are seen as more trustworthy and sincere in their mission to protect communities.

Consequently, community members, businesses, and other public agencies may see themselves as working on the same side as police to stop crime or prevent dangerous incidents.

Concern: More work

The extra tasks associated with making your data transparent means more time spent creating, handling, and reviewing it. This can be especially hard on agencies where staffing and resources are already stretched thin.

Response: Transparency saves more work in the long run.

Many agencies that have implemented self-service online portals connecting communities to policing data report that staff hours spent filling requests for information have been considerably reduced.

Plus, the process of compiling and presenting public-facing data may itself lead agencies to a better understanding of patterns in crime, areas for improvement, and more.

Transparency efforts that result in less crime mean fewer calls to police—and less time and resources spent.

Moreover, well-designed data management systems can alleviate much of the administrative burden.

Concern: Change

No matter why it's implemented—or how beneficial it proves to be—change in an organizations causes friction.  

Some personnel will be simply resistant to change, while others may be specifically unhappy with how a change impacts their job.

In addition, change can be time-consuming, difficult to oversee, expensive, and disruptive to established norms at your agency.

Response: Involve people in the process—Ask for feedback and listen to concerns.

By adequately preparing your personnel for the changes necessary to enable increased transparency, leaders can help reduce many concerns. Making sure staff feel heard can go a long way.

Also, consulting those who will be affected most can uncover issues or insights that might lead to a more effective plan.

Conclusion

Ultimately, transparency is an important component of law enforcement, and a properly managed plan offers many benefits to an agency.  

Transparency opens up two-way communication with your community. And while you may face resistance, the benefits of making crucial police data publicly available outweigh the drawbacks.  

By being proactive about how and when you share information, you can protect your officers, your agency, and your community.

How can leaders respond to concerns about transparency?

Typically, after a high-profile use-of-force or misconduct incident, there is a renewed call for transparency in law enforcement.  

Of course, complete transparency in police work is not always beneficial for the public or police. There are a number of legitimate concerns when it comes to making all of the information your agency handles freely accessible.

Nonetheless, transparency has real value for the agency or department in question.

As a leader with a goal of increased transparency, here’s how you can respond to questions raised about the benefits.  

Concern: Some popular transparency methods are considered ineffective.

Data suggests that body cameras or the release of officers' identities at the initial incident stage, for example, have not had a significant impact on the overall frequency of misconduct by LEOs.

Response: Efforts at transparency can still be valuable.

Rather than a tool for singling out officers, body cameras can illuminate personnel problems that can be addressed over time (through better training, for instance).

Body cameras also provide a real-time, uncensored window into everyday life in a community, allowing agencies a more accurate picture of the challenges there.

Better yet, leaders can develop a more holistic transparency plan that incorporates more effective tactics than just body cameras and public relations.  

For example, stronger recordkeeping and reporting can strengthen community trust. Despite your best intentions, being unable to make requested information readily available can be perceived as stonewalling or covering up misconduct within your ranks. Having robust data management systems allows you to provide timely and reliable information when needed.

And for a truly forward-thinking strategy, address the root causes of misconduct through early intervention, reevaluating your hiring practices, and improving your FTO program.  

Concern: Compromised investigations and confidentiality

Clearly, law enforcement needs to keep some portion of its work confidential. Information that could make handling a case less effective—or that could unethically expose sensitive data—should be justifiably kept secret.

Response: Sensitive data can still be protected.  

Through proactive leadership and highly secure technology solutions that offer robust permission and reporting parameters, a high level of transparency can still allow for keeping sensitive data confidential.

Per a piece on PoliceFoundation.org, law enforcement agencies that carefully consider which types of data to protect can do so—and control what is available on public-facing online interfaces—while still providing information that satisfies the public. Agencies can even automate the process of uploading data to public interfaces by connecting to their data management system.

Concern: Increased scrutiny and criticism

As the amount of information available increases, there is a greater chance that the public will call into question the value or quality of your decisions or performance.

Police officers regularly encounter complex high-stakes situations, and they might be concerned that what is provided to the public does not accurately reflect reality or provide enough context. They also might feel the pressure of impossible standards placed on them by the public or government officials.

Response: The spotlight isn't as harsh as it seems.  

While some critics will always seize upon data that is unfavorable to police, it's more often the case that presenting the bigger picture and being transparent with the community has a positive effect. When they're willing to provide transparency, law enforcement agencies are seen as more trustworthy and sincere in their mission to protect communities.

Consequently, community members, businesses, and other public agencies may see themselves as working on the same side as police to stop crime or prevent dangerous incidents.

Concern: More work

The extra tasks associated with making your data transparent means more time spent creating, handling, and reviewing it. This can be especially hard on agencies where staffing and resources are already stretched thin.

Response: Transparency saves more work in the long run.

Many agencies that have implemented self-service online portals connecting communities to policing data report that staff hours spent filling requests for information have been considerably reduced.

Plus, the process of compiling and presenting public-facing data may itself lead agencies to a better understanding of patterns in crime, areas for improvement, and more.

Transparency efforts that result in less crime mean fewer calls to police—and less time and resources spent.

Moreover, well-designed data management systems can alleviate much of the administrative burden.

Concern: Change

No matter why it's implemented—or how beneficial it proves to be—change in an organizations causes friction.  

Some personnel will be simply resistant to change, while others may be specifically unhappy with how a change impacts their job.

In addition, change can be time-consuming, difficult to oversee, expensive, and disruptive to established norms at your agency.

Response: Involve people in the process—Ask for feedback and listen to concerns.

By adequately preparing your personnel for the changes necessary to enable increased transparency, leaders can help reduce many concerns. Making sure staff feel heard can go a long way.

Also, consulting those who will be affected most can uncover issues or insights that might lead to a more effective plan.

Conclusion

Ultimately, transparency is an important component of law enforcement, and a properly managed plan offers many benefits to an agency.  

Transparency opens up two-way communication with your community. And while you may face resistance, the benefits of making crucial police data publicly available outweigh the drawbacks.  

By being proactive about how and when you share information, you can protect your officers, your agency, and your community.

The National Decertification Index (NDI) is a national registry of police officers whose law enforcement credentials have been revoked due to misconduct.

For more than 10 years, the NDI has provided police departments, state agencies, and other organizations with decertification data about potential hires.