Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Launches New All-Digital Tool to Collect Data on Law Enforcement and Civilian Uses of Force

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO -- Following last year’s launch of an unprecedented criminal justice open data initiative, OpenJustice, and the passage of Assembly Bill 71, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today launched a web-based tool that allows California law enforcement agencies to digitally report law enforcement or civilian uses of force. As part of the Attorney General’s commitment to promoting government adoption of technology, this tool was built as an open-source project and the software code will be made available free of charge to other law enforcement agencies around the country. A public demo of the tool is available at ursusdemo.doj.ca.gov.     

Previously, law enforcement officers in California reported on any death in custody on paper forms. No state in the country, including California, collected data on any non-lethal use of force.  Assembly Bill 71, authored by Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), and supported by Attorney General Harris, created a new requirement for California law enforcement agencies to annually report to the California Department of Justice data on any incidents that occurred in the previous year involving use of force by a civilian or peace officer against the other that involves a firearm or results in serious bodily injury or death.

The online platform, nicknamed URSUS after the bear on the California flag, can be accessed by any law enforcement agency in the state to report use of force data in an all-digital format, rather than by using a lengthy paper form. Today’s launch is a beta release to the field in advance of the January 1, 2017 reporting deadline for data from 2016 so that law enforcement agencies may use the tool during the fall and provide feedback to our office, which may be incorporated to enhance the tool’s functionality.  

“As a country, we must engage in an honest, transparent, and data-driven conversation about police use of force,” said Attorney General Harris.  “I am proud that California continues to lead the nation in the adoption of technology and data to improve our criminal justice system and keep our streets safe.”

One of the objectives of the OpenJustice initiative is to modernize data infrastructure, and this reporting tool will dramatically improve the speed and quality of data submitted, allowing data from the most complex incidents to be entered by law enforcement in under five minutes. The application includes dynamic screening questions and intelligent error-checking to help agencies input more accurate data. In addition, the platform’s advanced security features and role-based review workflows improve data reliability and integrity. This tool also minimizes costs for law enforcement, as its web-based interface and cloud storage reduce the need for local investment in custom data collection systems.

“The California Police Chiefs Association was an early supporter of AB 71, relating to use of force data, and has been collaborating with the Department of Justice ever since the bill was signed by the Governor last year,” said CA Police Chiefs Association President Chief Ken Corney. “We believe it is a sound practice to gather and report use of force data and make this information available to the public.”

“I commend Attorney General Harris on her development and launch of URSUS,” said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow.  “URSUS will assist law enforcement in gathering critical data involving use of force by a peace office, or by a civilian against a peace officer, that results in serious injury or death or involves the use of a firearm in order to meet the requirements of Assembly Bill 71. I am confident the introduction of URSUS and the collection of this data and information will improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities that we serve.” 

“We are proud to participate in this very important program. This technology is crucial to providing accurate public data on incidents involving the use of force,” said Walnut Creek Police Chief Thomas Chaplin.  “We wholeheartedly support this approach to create additional transparency and ease of accessibility for use of force data.”  

In addition to facilitating statewide collection, this tool also provides a suite of analytical tools for local agencies to better monitor incidents in their own jurisdictions, including features such as a dashboard, interactive charts, and pivot tables. Smaller agencies that may not currently have their own tracking systems will particularly benefit from these tools. 

The reporting tool was built through a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the California Department of Justice and Bayes Impact, a technology-for-good non-profit organization. In her continuing efforts to bring civic technology to government, Attorney General Harris established this unique partnership combining the California Department of Justice’s knowledge and expertise in law enforcement with Bayes Impact’s expertise in agile software development. The application was developed in just over six months, in ongoing collaboration with 12 pilot law enforcement agencies.

As part of the Attorney General’s commitment to ensuring that government technology serves the public, this tool was built as an open-source project and the software code will be made available free of charge to other states and agencies. Its open-source nature will also reduce ongoing maintenance costs as compared to a proprietary solution. 

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the OpenJustice Data Act of 2016 (Assembly Bill 2524), which the California Legislature unanimously passed last month. This law, sponsored by Attorney General Harris and authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), will convert Crime in California and other annual reports published by the California Department of Justice into digital datasets, which will be published on the Attorney General’s OpenJustice Web portal. The data from AB 71 will be posted on OpenJustice in early 2017.

Attorney General Harris first launched the OpenJustice initiative in 2015 as a mechanism for improving trust between communities and law enforcement, enhancing government accountability, and informing public policy with data. 

Earlier this year, the Attorney General announced the release of OpenJustice 1.1, which enriched the web portal’s initial data sets with city and county level data exploration tools and contextual information including population and demographic information, unemployment rates, poverty rates, and educational attainment levels.  In addition to providing greater transparency, this information enables policymakers to craft more informed, data-driven public policy.

Attorney General Harris has also taken several steps to strengthen the relationship of trust between law enforcement and California communities.  She directed a 90-day Review of her Division of Law Enforcement’s policies on use of force and implicit bias, convened the state’s law enforcement leaders to share best practices through her 21st Century Policing Working Group, created the first POST-certified course on Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias in the U.S., and developed a pilot for body-worn cameras for DOJ Special Agents.

# # #