Most police misconduct goes unreported, particularly in less extreme cases and in disenfranchised communities, but complaints filed with police departments and civilian review boards, as well as lawsuits, can point to histories of abuse tied to specific officers and precincts. In most cases, however, a citizen who becomes the victim of police abuse has little way of knowing if that officer is a repeat offender or has a history of targeting certain people, say, or sexual harassment. Even though cities spend millions to settle lawsuits filed against officers, the public has little access to what the settlements reveal about problematic officers and precincts. That situation is beginning to change, as police accountability groups bypass police departments by aggregating and distributing misconduct history databases on their own, reports The Intercept.
The Cop Accountability Project is a database created by New York’s Legal Aid Society that pools civil rights lawsuits, criminal court decisions, and other sources like attorney notes and social media content to compile misconduct profiles on nearly 9,000 New York City officers. The database assembles a wealth of information that could otherwise take months to gather, and it has proved a game-changer for the attorneys using it. The city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has launched its own Data Transparency Initiative, an interactive online data tool that includes information on more than 190,000 allegations of police misconduct, involving 63,000 victims and 36,000 officers. Unlike the Legal Aid database, that data paints only a macro picture of the issue and cannot be connected to individual officers or incidents. “We are essentially trying to find a way to collect data to document events that government doesn’t want documented in a public way,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a curator of the Legal Aid database.