Section IV

Criminal Justice Data Collections and Visualizations

As open access data continues to increase, governments are becoming more transparent. A number of current data projects illustrate the growing capacity of citizens and communities to obtain, analyze and display data related to justice and public safety.

Comprehensive System Data

Projects around the United States are collecting comprehensive criminal justice data to increase the public’s understanding of the justice system. This work is happening at the national, state, and local levels.

Open Criminal Justice Data is a project by the Sunlight Foundation that collects criminal justice data from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and the federal government. Information is available through an online spreadsheet, but a user-friendly and queryable data portal is in development. The goal of the project is to foster improved understanding of criminal justice data and how data can be standardized across jurisdictions.


Open Justice is an initiative supported by the California Department of Justice. It provides public access to a variety of justice-related data. Launched in 2015, the tool currently includes arrest rates, deaths in custody, and law enforcement officers killed and assaulted.


Crime and Punishment in Chicago provides data for eight contact points of the criminal justice system in Chicago, from victimization to prison. According to the Chicago Justice Project, the app is a combination of open data sets and data collected through freedom of information requests. The project also includes background information on each available data source, the reasons for any missing data, and where similar data may be obtained for comparison purposes.


Law Enforcement Applications

Tech projects across the United States are actively working to make more law enforcement data available to the public. The coverage of law enforcement data is also expanding beyond crime incident data and mapping. Due at least in part to high profile initiatives like the White House’s Police Data Initiative, information is being released to show response times to calls for service, the demographics of patrol stops, use of force, and the handling of misconduct complaints.

Numerous projects are attempting to collect accurate data about police-involved shootings and fatalities in the United States. The official number from the FBI’s Unified Crime Reports is widely believed to be an under count, as reporting these fatalities is not compulsory (Hansen 2015). Newspapers like the Guardian and the Washington Post have created projects to track the numbers. The Counted, for example, is a data application maintained by the Guardian in the United Kingdom. It relies on crowdsourced information from sites like Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters.


Created through the White House’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Police Data Initiative aims to improve internal accountability for police departments and transparency through the release of open data. The specific type of data may vary between jurisdictions, but the focus is on officer-involved shootings, traffic stops, citizen complaints, and 311 calls. According to Denice Ross, White House Innovation Fellow, the initiative is not attempting to standardize released data among the participating jurisdictions.

(See the complete video from Code for America)

Open Data Policing NC is a project born out of North Carolina’s open data law requiring the public release of data pertaining to most traffic stops in the state. The source data had been available for more than a decade, but this was the first attempt to make the information accessible with a user-friendly interface. After piloting the approach in North Carolina, the developers intend to create similar data portals in other states.


The Citizens Police Data Project is a public database that includes information about more than 8,000 incidences of police misconduct in Chicago. Jamie Kalven, one of the project’s creators, reports that the database is the largest in the country. It is unique because it names individual officers as well as the nature and outcome of each complaint. The project includes three different datasets: officers with more than 10 complaints between May 2001 and May 2006; officers with more than five excessive force complaints from May 2002 to December 2008; and all officer complaints from March 2011 to September 2015. The Chicago Police Department attempted to release even more misconduct data dating back to 1967, but the Fraternal Order of Police is challenging the effort in court.


Project Comport is a data portal built for the Indianapolis Police Department by Code for America. A White House Police Data Initiative site, Indianapolis’ public portal provides data on officer complaints, use of force, and officer involved shootings in both visualized and raw, downloadable formats. Previously, this information was only available through a public records request.


Criminal Records and Convictions

While these projects touch on a number of nuanced issues pertaining to criminal records and convictions, they all aim to create a novel system-wide and longitudinal understanding of the criminal justice system.

The Center for Science and Law developed the Neulaw Criminal Record Database to improve multi-jurisdictional crime data research. As a response to various shortcomings of the FBI’s Unified Crime Report, Sasha Davenport, a principle on the project, explains that the database pulled together millions of criminal records going back to 1977 from five jurisdictions to provide individualized detail to crime statistics, which includes type of crime, legal outcomes, and recidivism. This project created its own data standard to allow for cross-jurisdiction comparison of court records.

The Jail Population Management Dashboard was built by a team from Code for America and it is already being used in Louisville, Kentucky. The database provides near-real-time updates on the population of a facility, as well as non-jail housing options and their availability. It also provides data on charges, length of stay, bond status, and demographics. While the project’s dashboard is password protected and meant for local system stakeholders, there is a basic portal for public access.


capture_paroleboardThe Parole Board Hearing Data Project collects data from a public repository of New York parole hearing documents and creates a searchable database. Originally intended to improve public understanding of the parole board hearing process, inconsistencies among the 30,000 documents soon indicated a need for better data collection and improved standardization.


Chicago’s Million Dollar Blocks is a new visualization of Eric Cadora’s “million dollar blocks” work. Incarcerated residents of these blocks collectively cost the government over one million dollars a year. Chicago’s visualization is aesthetically dynamic, built in a responsive design, and open sourced. Cadora’s original work can be found through the Justice Mapping Center.


Legal Services

Two innovative projects address data related to legal services. One is national and provides data regarding access to legal counsel. The second is a prosecutor’s attempt to visualize existing data and improve the efficacy and transparency of the legal process.

The Justice Index provides access to national data about legal aid assistance. Currently focused on civil justice, the project plans to include public defender data in the near future. Created and hosted by the National Center for Access to Justice at the Cardozo Law School, the index documents state-level data on attorney access, self-representation support, language assistance for non-English speakers, disability assistance, and a composite index of these and other factors.


Justice System Performance is a collection of data dashboards to promote prosecutor accountability and transparency in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio. Unlike other prosecutor data portals, the Ohio project looks beyond crime statistics and mapping to depict performance measures such as defendant case time analysis, arraignment analysis by judge, charging statistics, and disposition outcomes. While the dashboard is run on Tableau, a data visualization software, the raw data behind the dashboard are not yet public.


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