Oakland Police Beat applies data-driven investigative journalism in California

April 4, 2014 by

One of the explicit connections I’ve made over the years lies between data-driven investigative journalism and government or corporate accountability. In debugging the backlash to data journalism, I highlighted the work of The Los Angeles Times Data Desk, which has analyzed government performance data for accountability, among other notable projects. I could also have pointed to the Chicago Sun-Times, which applied data-driven investigative methods to determine  that the City of Chicago’s 911 dispatch times vary widely depending on where you live, publishing an interactive map online for context, or to a Pulitzer Prize-winning story on speeding cops in Florida.

oaklandpb

This week, there’s a new experiment in applying data journalism  to local government accountability in Oakland, California, where the Oakland Police Beat has gone online. The nonprofit website, which is part of Oakland Local and The Center for Media Change and funded by The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and The Fund for Investigative Journalism, was co-founded by Susan Mernit and Abraham Hyatt, the former managing editor of ReadWrite. (Disclosure: Hyatt edited my posts there.)

Oakland Police Beat is squarely aimed at shining sunlight on the practices of Oakland’s law enforcement officers. Their first story out of the gate is pulled no punches, finding that Oakland’s most decorated officers were responsible for a high number of brutality lawsuits and shootings.

The site also demonstrated two important practices that deserve to become standard in data journalism: explaining the methodology behind their analysis, including source notes, and (eventually) publishing the data behind the investigation. 

To learn more about why Oakland Police Beat did that, how they’ve approach their work and what the long game is, I contacted Hyatt. Our interview follows, lightly edited and hyperlinked for context. Any [bracketed] comments are my own.

So, what exactly did you launch? What’s the goal?

Hyatt: We launched a news site and a database with 25 years worth of data about individual Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers who have been involved in shootings and misconduct lawsuits.

Oakland journalists usually focus (and rightfully so) on the city’s violent crime rate and the latest problems with the OPD. We started this project by asking if we could create a comprehensive picture of the officers with the most violent behavior, which is why the OPD is where it is today. We started requesting records and tracking down information. That eventually became the database. It’s the first time anyone in Oakland has created a resource like this.

What makes this “data-driven journalism?”

Hyatt: We started with the data and let it guide the course of the entire project. The stories we’ve written all came from the data.

Why is sharing the data behind the work important?

Hyatt: Sharing is critical. Sharing, not traffic, is the metric I’m using to gauge our success, although traffic certainly is fun to watch, too. That’s the main reason that we’re allowing people to download all of our data. (The settlement database will be available for download next week.)

How will journalists, activists, and data nerds use it over time? That’s going to be the indicator of how important this work was.

[Like ProPublica, Oakland Police Beat is encouraging reuse. The site says that "You’re welcome to republish our stories and use our data for free. We publish our stories under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License."]

Where do you get the data?

Hyatt: All of it came from city and court documents. Some of it came as .CSV files, some as PDFs that we had to scrape.

How much time and effort did it take to ingest, clean, structure and present?

Hyatt: Almost all of the court docs had to be human-read. It was a laborious process of digging to find officer names and what the allegations were. Combining city settlement data records and court docs took close to five months. Then, we discovered that the city’s data had flaws and that took another couple of months to resolve.

Some of the data was surprisingly easy to get. I didn’t expect the City Attorney’s office to be so forthcoming with information. Other stuff was surprisingly difficult. The OPD refused to give us awards data before 2007. They claim that they didn’t keep that data on individual officers before then. I know that’s completely false, but we’re a tiny project. We don’t have the resources to take them to court over it. Our tools were very simple.

Did you pay for it?

Hyatt: We used PACER a ton. The bill was close to $900 by the time we were done. We mainly worked out of spreadsheets. I had a handful of command line tools that I used to clean and process data. I ran a virtual machine so that I could use some Linux-bases tools as well. I heart Open Refine. We experimented with using Git for version control on stories we were writing.

” A used chemical agent grenade found on the streets in downtown Oakland following Occupy demonstrations in 2011. Photo by Eric K Arnold.

Will you be publishing data, methodology as you went along?

Hyatt: The methodology post covers all of our stories. We’ll continue to publish stories, as well as some data sets that we got along the way that we decided not to put into our main dataset, like several hundred city attorney reports about the settled cases.

What’s the funding or revenue model for the site? Where will this be in one year? Or 5?

Hyatt: Everyone wants grant-funded journalism startups to be sustainable, but, so often, they start strong and then peter out when resources run dry.

Instead of following that model, I knew from the start that this was going to be a phased project. We had some great grants that got us started, but I didn’t know what the funding picture was going to look like once we started running stories. So, I tried to turn that limitation into a strength.

We’re publishing eight weeks worth of stories and data. We’re going to cram as much awesome into those weeks as we can and then, if needed, we can step away and let this project stand on its own.

With that said, we’re already looking for funding for a second phase (which will focus on teens and the OPD). When we get it, we’ll use this current data as a springboard for Phase 2.

Could this approach be extended to other cities?

Hyatt: The OPD and its problems are pretty unique in the USA. This was successful because there was so much stuff to work with in Oakland. I don’t think our mentality for creating and building this project was unique.

7 Comments

xiaozhengmmm Sep 05, 2014
jordan retro cheap ray bans cheap jerseys michael kors backpack true religion jeans ray ban aviators louis vuitton speedy tory burch flats cheap louis vuitton nfl football jerseys cheap jerseys bottega veneta bags louis vuitton backpack fitflop shoes louis vuitton fendi true religion jeans outlet hermes belt coach outlet cheap jordans ray ban sunglasses outlet michael kors outlet louis vuitton belt prda outlet louis vuitton handbags louis vuitton outlet louis vuitton louis vuitton purses louis vuitton speedy red shoes michael kors factory outlet fitflop sandals louis vuitton purses mont blanc fountain pens jordan 11 red heels coach outlet store online true religion outlet store red bottoms bottega veneta handbags coach outlet polo outlet bottega veneta outlet coach factory outlet celine paris hermes birkin insanity workout ray bans coach outlet cheap toms tory burch outlet air jordan shoes coach factory online oakley suglasses cheap tory burch shoes ray ban outlet jordan 13 true religion outlet louis vuitton handbags christian louboutin celine luggage tote celine bag price michael kors outlet online kate spade handbags true religion jeans kate spade handbags gucci shoes chanel bags christian louboutin sneakers mont blanc pens coach factory online coach factory oakley sunglasses cheap oakleys coach factory outlet hair straightener louis vuitton outlet fendi handbags fendi purses jordan shoes coach factory outlet online abercrombie and fitch louis vuitton wallet marc jacobs fitflop footwear ray ban wayfarer michael kors outlet stores fitflops clearance marc by marc jacobs true religion outlet louis vuitton handbags fitflop outlet toms shoes sale louis vuitton purses kate spade outlet store juicy couture outlet hermes delivery prada shoes coach factory online louis vuitton bags louis vuitton handbags louis vuitton toms outlet true religion jeans outlet christian louboutin sale tory burch outlet online gucci handbags louis vuitton fitflop outlet louis vuitton usa joe abercrombie fitflop outlet christian louboutin shoes juicy couture perfume louis vuitton outlet louis vuitton bags toms shoes ray ban sunglasses viva la juicy fitflop sandals outlet trye religion outlet kate spade factory outlet true religion sale crossfit workouts jordan retro cheap jordans louis vuitton bags ray ban sunglasses louis vuitton outlet mont blanc pens bottega veneta louis vuitton belts ray bans louis vuitton shoes toms shoes outlet trye religion outlet store louis vuitton outlet jordan for women louis vuitton purses ray ban glasses ray ban outlet louis vuitton uk toms wedges celine outlet oakley sunglasses wholesale oakley sunglasses coach factory outlet abercrombie michael kors outlet online fitflop shoes football jersey hollister kids chanel online shop cheap nfl jerseys kate spade purses ray ban sunglasses fitflops michael kors handbasg ralph lauren outlet toms promo code oakley outlet marc jacobs handbags fitflop footwear coach outlet store online cheap oakley sunglasses coach factory celine handbags ray ban outlet stores michael kors handbags mont blanc fountain pen michael kors outlet stores used louis vuitton true religion jeans coach outlet store online michaelkors outlet store tory burch outlet online louis vuitton purses kate spade outlet coach outlet store online louis vuitton louis vuitton handbags trye religion outlet official coach factory outlet prada handbags p90x workout schedule kate spade outlet online nfl jerseys wholesale fitflop sale official coach factory outlet online ralph lauren home hollister co true religion jeans nfl jerseys louis vuitton outlet store michael kors bags michael kors handbags hermes outlet burberry handbags chanel handbags cheap ray ban sunglasses michael kors outlet coach factory outlet michael kors handbags burberry bags mont blanc pen coach factory online coach factory outlet online christian louboutin shoes michael kors outlet online chi flat iron true religion jeans men chanel outlet red bottom shoes cheap true religion jeans louis vuitton outlet store hollister clothing coach factory outlet louis vuitton outlet stores gucci outlet kate spade coach outlet cheap jordans louis vuitton purses mont blanc mountain coach factory online designer handbags louis vuitton handbags jordan sneakers michael kors outlet louis vuitton outlet michael kors outlet coach outlet christian louboutin outlet michael kors outlet louboutin tory burch outlet fendi outlet nfl jerseys coach outlet jordan shoes oakley sunglasses wholesale tory burch shoes michael kors handbags louisvuitton michael kors outlet store burberry outlet toms outlet toms shoes tory burch flats gucci outlet store ralph lauren fitflops clearance coach outlet stores gucci bags abercrombie fitch louis vuitton neverfull cheap nfljerseys chi hair straightener chi straightener michael kors purses louis vuitton wallet jordans for sale marc jacobs outlet christian louboutin outlet true religion jeans outlet fendi bags true religion michael kors outlet online hermes bracelet louboutin shoes coach factory outlet ray ban sunglasses wholesale kate spade louis vuitton outlet abercrombie and kent oakley outlet tory burch handbags workout routines polo ralph lauren louis vuitton outlet fitflops online coach factory mont blanc legend louis vuitton officail website workout plans kate spade outlet ab workouts bottega veneta outlet online true religion mont blanc pen prada bags louis vuitton bags cheap jerseys from china christian louboutin hollister outlet toms sale louis vuitton sunglasses burberry scarf louis vuitton handbags jordan shoes louis vuitton outlet www.louisvuitton.com hollister promo code mont blanc legend juicy couture hair dryer oakley glasses louis vuitton outlet stores cheap jordan for sale
polo outlet Jul 10, 2014
Walking on the way home, Nike Air Jordan, suddenly a scenery touched, Ralph Outlet, stopped to savor, MCM Outlet Online, to put a camera gesture, Polo Outlet Online, to leave a shallow spring, Gucci Shoes UK, of negatives here, Michael Kors Outlet, deep in her heart extended spring scenery, Marc Jacobs Bags Outlet, etc, returned home, Canada Goose Jackets, using bamboo memo box, Ralph Lauren Outlet, to do with pen, Michael Kors USA, and ink painting, North Jackets Outlet Online, the intention to write, a sweet words, Beats By Dre, do a recall album, wait until old age, Hermes Bags Outlet, come to appreciate slowly, North Clearace Outlet Online, walked with light, Burberry Bags Outlet, footsteps walked on, the King, Monster Headphones Outlet, or the original scene, Longchamp Pairs, people are still the original person, Prada Outlet Online, just change a mood, Michael Kors Outlet Online, all plain people, Cheap Oakley Sunglaases, things, Coach Factory Shop, and it was better together. Handbags Outlet Online, http://www.superbagsmarket.com/ Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Hermes Bags Outlet Online Prada Outlet Chanel Outlet Online Gucci Outlet Online Burberry Outlet Celine Outlet Balenciaga Outlet Christian Bior Outlet Online Chloe Outlet Online Bvlgari Outlet Online Bally Outlet coach Outlet Michael Kors Outlet Online MCM Backpack Outlet Online Fendi Outlet Online mulberry Outlet Marc Jacobs Outlet Miu Miu Outlet Online Ysl Outlet Online Tory Burch Outlet Online Givenchy Outlet Online Ferragamo Outlet Online Lancel Outlet Online Loewe Bags Outlet Online Tods Outlet Online Paul Smith Outlet Online D&G Bags Outlet Online Alexander Wang Outlet Online Bottega Veneta Outlet Online
cheap_viagra Jul 02, 2014

Post a comment

We're trying to advance the conversation, and we trust that you will, too. We'd rather not moderate, but we will remove any comments that are blatantly inflammatory or inappropriate. Let it fly, but keep it clean. Thanks.