CAMDEN, NJ — During a May 2015 visit to Camden, former President Barack Obama revealed a federal initiative that would bring together data from the county’s metro police and 20 other departments nationally in a central hub.
Data trends could be accessed through a directory within the Police Data Initiative, as it’s known, helping to provide transparency and build trust between leading law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
Four years later, the Camden County Police Department is the only agency of the original group not to make data available, either to the national database or its own website. There are now approximately 150 agencies involved, spread over more than half of the 50 states.
A report from The Philadelphia Inquirer in August 2017 first drew attention to the department’s inaction, when more than two years had passed since Camden joined the initiative.
At that time, police spokesperson Dan Keashen said a data portal was expected “to be available within the next six months.”
He said the initiative had “taken a backseat” to other projects that the CCPD was already pursuing. Those included replacing the computer-aided dispatch system and obtaining body cameras for officers.
On Wednesday, Keashen said members of the public can obtain any Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data for Camden on the New Jersey State Police website, or by calling the CCPD's public information officer with the inquiry. The CCPD provides its data to the state police monthly for audit, Keashen said.
The public can also request police data through the Open Public Records Act.
A communications contact with the National Police Foundation out of Washington, D.C., from which the Police Data Initiative is run, had not responded to a call for comment as of publishing.
Background on the Police Data Initiative reads that “no specific data is required” to be posted by participating agencies, which are given the ability to decide “what data...they prefer to release.”
The amount and types of data shared varies from agency to agency. However, except for Camden, each of the original 21 agencies, which include Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans, and Oakland, have hyperlinks on the Police Data Initiative website that connect a user to external data sets of some kind.
The "data portal" section on the CCPD's page of the initiative reads "not currently identifiable."
Among the data sets made available from other departments are details on accident reports, officer-involved shootings, officer use of force, and traffic stops.
Keashen told the Inquirer in 2017 that “we’re a midlevel police department, so we don’t have expansive resources. We’ve had to pick and choose what we prioritize.”
A year earlier, the CCPD responded in writing to a question from a community-police relations forum that the department was working to develop its own computer-aided dispatch and records management system, according to a document with the responses.
Residents believed this answer did not address the question from the April 20 forum, which asked, “what is the status or progress of the Police Data Initiative as discussed by President Obama last May in the city of Camden?”
No other mention of the initiative, or of “open data,” was made in the written responses from police.
Meanwhile, a snapshot of city data on the economy, health, and education can be found at this destination. And the county has its own GIS (Geographic Information System) data for the public available here, which touches on several topics of interest minus policing.