Opening Up Stop and Frisk

By: Maddie Kim, Julia Appel, Felipe Lozano-Landinez, and Iris Fung

The data show Stop and Frisk incidents and crimes reported in Boston in 2012 from the ACLU, reported crimes from the City of Boston Open Data Portal from 2012, and demographic data from the American Community Survey from 2007-2011. We created a scrollable op-ed piece piece similar to one you might see in the New York Times Upshot section, or on the Boston Globe’s website. (The title of our newspaper is “The Boston Times.”) 

To that end, our intended audience is informed and politically engaged readers of a major Boston newspaper. Our goal is to communicate our findings about the incidence of Stop and Frisk incidents and crime reporting, and to convince readers that timely release of data on Stop and Frisk is imperative for maintaining accountability among the Boston Police Department for fair and just policing practices. With a policing practice as controversial as this one, and as open to potential racially and demographically motivated abuse as this one has proven itself to be in other cities, clear and transparent accountability via open data release is an absolute necessity. Our call to action is to for readers to demand that Stop and Frisk data be open to the public. It is a bit more subtle than in past projects, because we felt like the medium in which we were working (a large, trusted, objective news source) would not run an op-ed piece with a very explicit call to action (like, for example, signing an ACLU petition). Rather, we tried to let the data speak for themselves via the maps and captions, and then guide the reader towards our call to action with the accompanying text. We think this is an appropriate way to tell this story because it combines the visual impact of a map with the context provided by our accompanying analysis and opinion text. This feels especially important with this dataset, because of the sensitivity demanded by policing activities, and the nuance involved with parsing, cleaning, and combining the three datasets. We felt a cohesive news story would be the best way to give the topic the context, ethical integrity, and thoughtfulness it deserves. Further, we felt that formatting our project as an opinion piece allowed us to communicate our goals and call to action to an audience that would likely be receptive to it.  

The first part of our project development process was completion of background research on Stop and Frisk; we looked at other cities that have successfully utilized open data on Stop and Frisk to make positive changes to policing practices. Next, we coded all the Stop and Frisk incidents included in the dataset by neighborhood using the BPD District ID code from each report, and mapped each incident. Then we downloaded, cleaned, and coded crime report data from the BPD according to the same scheme as the Stop and Frisk data, and plotted the two data sets onto the same map. The results were surprising: there were some discrepancies in incidences of crime and Stop and Frisk incidents. Stop and Frisk is a policy that is meant to make policing more efficient, so we expected to see correlations between crime reports and Stop and Frisk incidents. From there, we chose two neighborhoods, one with high Stop and Frisk incidents (Mattapan), and one with high crime (West Roxbury). We compared the demographics of each neighborhood — racial composition, median income, unemployment — to see if those metrics had any correlation with the discrepancies we noticed. In our article, we bookend our maps and charts with text that expresses our article’s thesis: open data on Stop and Frisk will make the Boston Police Department more accountable to the City’s citizens, and help enforce policing practices that are not racially or demographically motivated, but rather are motivated by actual crime incidence.

Stop and Frisk is a controversial policing policy: proponents view it is a proactive way to patrol the streets and decrease crime, while objectors see it as racist, and a plain violation of human and civil rights; both a cause and an effect of a corrupt and unjust criminal justice system. Regardless of your opinion on the policing practice, one thing is certain: transparent compilation of data is an absolute necessity to ensuring that the public has accurate information and can hold the Boston Police Department accountable for their actions.

Here’s another link to our article.