The Justice Discovery Initiative

Discovering ways to improve how the public sees and seeks Justice Reform through data

November 10, 2020 –  TL: DR; Yesterday we kicked off our partnership with Mozilla Foundation and Miami-Dade College for our Justice Discovery Initiative. Through a cohort of emerging technologists, we will work to understand the justice system in South Florida and improve how people discover local police budgets and police complaints through prototypes that will be made public for community feedback. 

The discussion on police brutality and police reform at the local level is missing data that is accurate and standardized. Our hope is to discover a way to push the conversation of data standards to help inform and engage communities.

Our staff will shepherd junior talent from Miami-Dade College to lead a collaborative effort with the City of Miami to research, analyze, and release data related to two justice-related prototypes for municipal and potentially county-level use cases. Our goal is to help residents, government staff, researchers, and journalists investigate and improve interactions between police and the public.

Why Police Complaints?

In a typical year in Miami, Florida, the Civilian Investigative Panel at the City of Miami receives between 250-300 police complaints from sworn police officers. The panel’s mission is to provide an impartial assessment of concerns of sworn police. In August, we teamed up with reporter Daniel Rivero to access their complaints database and launched a beta search tool that received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Miamians in 2020, with thousands of users signing on to the application in a matter of weeks. What we learned is that not all police complaint forms are equal, and that although public data is gathered and centralized, it is not always accessible for the public.

For this reason, we are iterating on our past work to improve how the public finds police complaint records. We are starting with user research engaging real people to navigate the experiences of transparency around police complaints to improve the process and recommend better approaches to the work. To expand on that work our justice discovery initiative will use qualitative and quantitative research to identify and explore new opportunities for public services.

The “Justice Discovery Initiative” is called so because we are not selling solutions: we are civic technologists working with emerging talent to get a better picture of policy, law enforcement, budget, and data to demonstrate improvements to public systems. We are opening up government to the public and encouraging feedback to build a better future together. This is for all of us – not some of us.

Why Budget Data?

When it comes to getting anything started in government you need a budget. Currently, there is not a Police Reform budget in place and we see that as an opportunity. A small budget allocated to fixing data standardizing is a small step toward major wins in moving discussions on police reform initiatives. In our civic engagement initiative, we championed participatory budgeting as a method to achieve getting the people to vote where tax dollars should go.

What we learned is that many South Floridians struggle to understand where dollars are going in the existing budget and which projects are happening. In a virtual world, searching through existing budget data and budget decisions made at local government hearings is difficult. We see the first step to getting to participatory budgeting as a place where citizens may openly access municipal and county data and the virtual meetings where the decisions are being made. Through this discovery work, we plan to work with a team to uncover methods of improvement in this area. 

Finding A Budget for Police Reform Through Digital Services 

We believe the public should have services that they can use reliably and with dignity. Everyone should be able to know where to make a police complaint or see their local government budget simply. They should also be able to know where decisions are being made, and services that cities host should reflect the same level of modern technology as the big technology companies. In our discovery, we hope to demonstrate services that inspire this change toward a better relationship between government and its citizens.