Open Justice: Embracing Transparency

Written by Attorney General Kamala Harris, exclusively for the A3A criminal justice blog series.

As a career prosecutor and California’s top cop, I know that neighborhoods are safer when communities and local law enforcement have a mutual trust. That’s why the national conversation about the relationship between communities and law enforcement is so important. Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, South Carolina, and elsewhere have brought police-community relations to the top of our national consciousness. This conversation is about justice for the victims and their families, but it’s also about making our entire nation safer.

We all need to come together to deliver on the potential of this momentum. That’s why my office recently launched OpenJustice, a first-of-its kind initiative that embraces transparency improve trust and policy-making in the criminal justice system. Here at the California Department of Justice, we collect a treasure trove of criminal justice data. OpenJustice seeks to make that information publicly available, so that everyday people can see what we are doing to uphold the civil rights of all individuals, promote justice in our communities, and ensure the safety of law enforcement.

OpenJustice is part of a “Smart on Crime” approach that takes a holistic look at criminal justice policy.  This means applying innovative, data-proven methods to make sure our criminal justice system is doing what it was intended to: improve public safety.  By using the universal language of numbers, OpenJustice makes it easy for the public to see how we’re doing – and where we can do better. 

As a first step with OpenJustice, we launched an Open Data Portal a public, online repository of criminal justice data – and a Justice Dashboard, which highlights key data in an interactive, engaging, and easy-to-use way. We started with three important datasets: (1) Deaths in Custody, (2) Arrest Rates and (3) Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted.  But no single statistic will provide a complete picture of such a complicated issue. So we plan to keep adding additional data to OpenJustice to broaden the conversation.

OpenJustice is our contribution to what I hope will become a nationwide, data-driven criminal justice reform movement. To help build that movement, we’ve also partnered with the White House Police Data Initiative to support more local law enforcement agencies in California open up their data and to provide a model for other states to adopt. 

Sharing this data with the public may force some difficult conversations, but it’ll also bring clarity and facts into the conversation. By being transparent about how we’re doing, by being smart about where we are focusing our resources, and by being innovative in adopting new technologies and data-driven solutions, we can make huge strides in fostering the relationship of trust between law enforcement and the communities we are sworn to serve, making everyone safer. 

Kamala D. Harris is the 32nd Attorney General of the State of California. She is the first woman, the first African American, and the first South Asian to hold the office in the history of California.

As chief law enforcement officer for the State of California, Attorney General Harris has focused on combating transnational gangs, increasing the adoption of technology and data-driven policing by law enforcement, and improving public safety by reducing recidivism. She has fought to reduce elementary school truancy in California, preserve the state’s natural resources, and ensure marriage equality for all Californians. She has also worked with the technology industry to improve online privacy and safety. Read more >>