We hope to serve in an advisory and informational capacity to help make government data publicly accessible and maximally useful to local government agencies, urban neighborhoods, socially concerned and community development organizations, social science researchers, the media, and the public by:
When Bradley Tech, a troubled Milwaukee public high school, had to be locked down and receive massive police support to stop a fight involving gang members and kids from other schools, the most important issue is not about the school, the 18 arrests, the gangs, the fight, or the police response. It's about having no public information about the incident, which occurred on Nov. 30, until a statement was dragged out of the police department a week later, as rumors and questioned reached the press and political leaders.
Similar patterns of significant crimes that only come to light weeks after the fact have occurred since the Milwaukee Police Department's encrypted radio system, OpenSky, went into full production use early in 2010. The problem is that, post-OpenSky, MPD has left no way for the media or anyone else to follow what squads are doing, within reasonable parameters, as used to be the case. Going from police scanners to nearly nothing was a major disruption to public information access and crucial information flows in and outside of the city government.
Now, when a major incident fails to attract immediate media notice and no MPD statement is forthcoming, victims, witnesses or second and third-hand sources tend to generate inquiries and exposes a week or two later, when the media and politicians get involved. This has become a repetitive and counterproductive cycle for the entire metropolitan community.
There are technological solutions possible, but none have been proposed until today, when MPD suggested that the 911 dispatch webpage with brief call type summaries on the MPD website is all the press needs. Is it really MPD's position that this is all the press needs?
In other words, does a line of text that says "fight" with a location given like "4th and Bruce" do the job? This line of text appears only for a brief period of time and is not retrievable later. It appears somewhere within 5 screens of similar summaries. Is this really adequate public notice? Are journalists supposed to refresh their browsers all day watching these pages, instead of expecting a statement from MPS or MPD when many squads are called to stop a fight in a school and make arrests? On numerous occasions, the entire dispatch page has gone offline without warning, sometimes over long holiday weekends.
MPD claims that "All dispatched calls for police service are posted, with a 30-minute delay, on the Milwaukee Police Department Website under the Dispatched Calls for Police Service Tab." In fact the dispatch page itself actually says the calls are those made by 911 dispatch operators and the delay is 30-90 minutes. Previously it has been stated by MPD that some calls may be withheld longer in special cases, and 911 dispatch operators are not the only source of calls for service. Squads can be sent to locations by non-emergency operators and probably other channels, so it's unclear what is and is not being shown.
In the specific case of Bradley Tech on the 30th, was a 911 call made? Was a 911 call made that resulted in a dispatch? If a code red or lockdown is issued by a school, does this involve dispatch logs that go on the MPD website?
A national crime-mapping website, SpotCrime.com, harvests all data it is able to collect from MPD's dispatch page and has no entries pertaining to Bradley Tech for the 30th. Usually it is a reliable, permanent record of what has been posted by MPD, but even it is a very limited solution to the void of timely information about police activity.
This was first posted at the RJI News Collaboratory.Unfortunately, when I first asked these questions (in shorter form) on MPD's Facebook page, they were deleted. The situation has reached a point where I think there is motivation now to independently create applications to provide the data and accessibility needed to really function in the public interest. I am interested in hearing from anyone who is aware of similar situations in other cities, and how they were dealt with.
If you have a moment to read and respond to this blog post at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I would appreciate it. Part of the difficulty in getting open gov data is raising it to awareness as a priority.
Milwaukee County mapping site using copyrighted data
By Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel
May. 26, 2009
A few hours ago, Vancouver's city government posted the agenda to a council meeting next week in which this motion will be read:
MOTION ON NOTICE
Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source...
Nearly all Manitobans are familiar with the near yearly effects of flooding upon river based communities. Floods seem to affect us year after year with the only grassroots movement to rectify the situation being assistance in sandbagging friends houses and some related actions but all long term/large scale planning is left in the hands of the government. Perhaps there is something to be said for the abilities of a DIY attitude tackling this recurring problem that faces Winnipeg and the surrounding environs. It may be something beyond our abilities to take on nature but logistics and additional creativity may be capable of wondrous things.
What does everyone else think on the matter? This is, obviously, not very thought through on my end and simply a mental exercise at the moment.
I read today's Times-Picayune and was struck be David Marcello's column
Seeking real reform in city procurement:
Headlines scream about who's ahead in the mayor-council battle over awarding city contracts: "Council fails to override mayor's veto!" Lost in the shuffle is the important issue that underlies these conflicts: How can we reform the way City Hall selects architects, engineers, lawyers and other professional services contractors?
For the hundredth time I was frustrated and wanted to do something about our dysfunctional city government. A few minutes later, during my Saturday morning blog reading, I ran across a fellow soul, Timothy M. O'Brien writing for the O'Reilly blog on Government Transparency is Our Responsibility: Apps for America, who is frustrated on a grander scale:
Regardless of your political ideas, if you are watching the slow machinery of our Federal government switch gears and are wondering how to involve yourself, you don't need to send in a resume to some government official or even ask anyone's permission. Governance, and government generally, is not the protected domain of elected or appointed officials, it is the product of individual initiative transformed into collective desire.
O'Brien has some ideas about how to put this manifesto into action, and in particular calls our attention to Sunlight Labs Apps for America contest:
Sunlight Labs is one of several organizations dedicated to the idea of great transparency in government, and they are sponsoring a competition for people to use several open source APIs and tools to create novel applications and ways to slice and dice gov't data. You can enter today, you don't have to ask anyone's permission, and all you need to do is join a Google Group and register for an API key.
A few minutes later, I ran across a post about DIYcity, and it suddenly became clear that I could finally do something. The result is DIY New Orleans, and a new DIY city topical group on Government Transparency. Consider this a first step towards "Apps for NOLA".
I started a group here with a Milwaukee focus because that's where I am, and I have a few friends involved in improving the local government data infrastructure, which determines what can be done (by anyone) with that data.
But of course this is an international, universally relevant issue today, though it is motivated locally by the particularity of local issues. (See the Open Government Data group: http://groups.google.com/group/open-government )
Some ideas for posting here and starting a discussion:
*What is your interest in open government data, in general and for where you live?
*What are some of the technical and political issues you want to learn about?
*What do you already know that you can share with others?