One of the most important but least obvious facets of contemporary astronomy is the huge role played by amateur stargazers. The evolution of astronomy has benefited surprisingly from backyard obsessives and their enthusiasms. In 1994, a large comet, captured by giant Jupiter, descended into the Jovian atmosphere disrupting cloud patterns and the gonzo weather system that characterizes this strange world.
This event, chronicled by amateur astronomers Shoemaker & Levy, has led to a dramatic re-calibration of the frequency with which catastrophic comet/meteor impacts may occur in our solar system. Astronomy is too big for the astronomers even with all the shiny technologies, supercomputers, monster telescopes and total brainiacs at the center of the discipline.
And policing, dear readers, is too vital, too important and too powerful to leave entirely to chiefs, supervisors and beat cops or even to elected officials. We need a citizen/neighborhood/outsider posse to help keep the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) fully accountable, equitable and on track. And having the sort of data that until recently was an offer from the TPD is essential to this task.
In a town that has great promise, but many challenges, a police department that is secretive and doesn't do its best to be transparent is not a good thing. It's also not consistent with our times. Transparency and openness in every facet of our society is one of the avenues for improving productivity and mitigating the alienation many people feel toward government operations and large corporations. And transparency allows organizations like TPD to harness the energy, insight and the special perspective that outsiders sometimes bring to even the most complex work, including policing.
Organizing police operations and affairs in as transparent a fashion as possible would not only produce additional confidence in what TPD officers are doing and how they're treating everyone across the various tribes that make up our community, but it's also again consistent with emerging evidence on the value of rich "client" feedback to business and public sector managers.
If you've ever watched Ridley Scott's fantastic Black Hawk Down (2001) you have a good sense of how off-site commanders supervise military operations using video and advanced communications. And Scott's film is now 10 years old. Techniques now employed by the US military to surveil targets and to supervise field operations are immensely more sophisticated. These tools and techniques are also available for overseeing police operation and providing the public with powerful insight.
The Networked City and Cops
An emerging movement in city planning and technology circles called the "network city" is working its way across the planet. I've written about this stuff in these pages: "wiring" cheap sensors to major street segments, bridges, water/sewer works, traffic lights, storm water outlets, sidewalk segments, etc. to ascertain their "health" using the always-on feedback that digital sensor systems can provide. Such a system could transform the cost-effectiveness and agility of local government. These networking concepts could be used to dramatically improve public works and engineering services at City Hall.
And while the TPD evidently has a host of technology management problems at the moment (nothing that superior salaries and more autonomy for tech staffer can't fix, if my experience is a guide) it seems obvious that off-the-shelf, clean and appropriate technologies are also part of the way forward to a more open and transparent operation. Specifically, one guru in the police science and Fourth Amendment community has suggested using body worn video cameras (BWV). David Harris of the University of Pennsylvania wrote a big piece on this new option last year in the Pitt Law journal.
"Given universal trends in technology for digital devices to become more capable and smaller over time, recording systems for police have become so small that, instead of mounting these units on police car dashboards, you can now mount them on police officers themselves. First used in the United Kingdom, police there called them head cams or more formally Body Worn Video (BWV) which consists of video and audio recording equipment 'mounted to the side of the officers head in the way one might wear a wire cell phone car piece. At least two American companies manufacture versions of these devices. And they have begun to appear in small numbers in US police agencies."
We can make use of BWV and related technologies to give the police department and the citizenry spectacular insight into policing operations, what's getting done, what isn't getting done and how one of our most essential services might be improved by making it more transparent.
BWV is obviously only one technology available for ratcheting up accountability -- but it is one that doesn't require extra hardware or special attention from officers. And technology is only one element needed to make the TPD operation more transparent. If my sources are on the mark, augmenting cross-cultural training and more responsive policing styles (more aggressive use of community-based policing and related regimes) and in Tulsa's case, a more agile selection pathway, might be looked into. Consider an imaginative pre-college apprenticeship enlistment project that might directly recruit high school kids -- particularly Hispanic and black kids. This gambit could produce a more socially savvy operation -- and one that induces higher trust/cooperation in north & east Tulsa.
Public Safety Committee -- A First Task
Mayor Dewey Bartlett together with the City Council recently created a public safety committee to review various policing and public safety policy matters. It would be altogether appropriate, altogether fitting for that body to review TPD's new data management policy as soon as possible. One has to wonder what the purview of this new public safety committee will actually be -- whether they're going to do work of any consequence or if it's a matter that doesn't merit their attention at all.
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