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WSU Speaker Event series kicks off with a conversation on Democratizing Data

EVERETTWashington State University’s Everett campus held its first ever WSU Everett Empowered speaker event Thursday, March 28, discussing open public safety data with Dr. David Makin, Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

WSU Everett empowered
Dr. David Makin, Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Dr. David Makin, Associate Professor at WSU’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, who is leading the effort to launch the nation’s first ever publicly accessible all-incident public safety data portal. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Dr. Makin is a leader in blending technology with public safety to enhance community safety and foster meaningful connections. His innovative work in applying body worn cameras in police departments has advanced transparency and played a pivotal role in strengthening police community relations. He’s a visionary in his field and his commitment to data-driven solutions in public safety has made significant impacts and has garnered national recognition improving lives across the country.

The speaker event celebrated the launch of WSU Everett’s Everett Empowered, a brand-new speaker series that embodies the University’s mission to connect, explore, and inspire. These speaker series events were made possible by the Everett Library, Everett Community College, the City of Everett, and Sno-Isle Libraries.

Dr. Makin began his talk Thursday by emphasizing that he is a technologist, interested in leveraging technology to improve the lives of people. When he was first starting his academic career at Pennsylvania State University, there wasn’t such a thing called a “technologist,” he shared opened; so, his attention to public safety came from having grown up in a military family.

Makin continued that data is collected by just about everybody, that’s not the problem. The challenge in understanding the right questions to ask to obtain the “right data.”

Washington State University’s (WSU) Everett Campus is currently beta testing a new, state of the art, public safety data center that, when it launches this fall, will be the nation’s first ever publicly accessible portal that collects, organizes, and delivers information related to all things public safety across Washington.

“When we talk about de-escalation training, we talk about the legislature – Washingtonians coming together to say ‘this policy is important to us’ and then they pass it, we ask the question well did it work? And the answer is: I don’t know,” posed Dr. Makin Thursday. “Do you think the legislature forgot to collect the data? No, the data was being collected but it wasn’t being brought together in a way, analyzed in a way, that was helpful.”

While several tools that compile police data already exist, including the WASPC’s annual reports, and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), the data in which these reports encompass are arrest-based. The totality of what a police agency does, however, revolves around far more than just making arrests.

Dr. Makin elaborated that crime and arrest data is important to the public, but the vast majority of what Police Officers do is not making arrests. Additionally, in the case of NIBRS, by the time the report is published, the datasets are already a year old but there’s no way to tell if the problems it highlights are still pertinent or resolved.

WSU Everett empowered
Dr. David Makin

“By providing an element of greater transparency around what public safety looks like in our communities we can enable that data story that looks at welfare checks, it looks at mental health contacts, it looks at that invisible work that is truly meaningful,” said Dr. Makin.

Dr. Makin also continued that this dataset could be used to “stimulate the local economy” by aiding in decision making of where to place a clinic, an example he used, to have the most beneficial impact to the community.

The present data system, Dr. Makin added, is “extremely fragmented.” When looking at data services, one should look at five things, he said: is it going to be able to make things more effective, more efficient, better allocated resources/deployed resources, and improve our expected accountability.”

“When you look at how agencies are staffed to generate data, the requirements they have, there’s tremendous variability across these agencies,” said Dr. Makin. “Some agencies will use an actual box to fill in, others will put it in the note field, some will put in their note field then remove it because it might be a liability.”

The data center is currently in its beta testing phase and Dr. Makin’s team hopes to have some data available by late this fall. When it launches, community members will be able to set up an account (to save configurations and share with other users), log in to a website, and download complete data sets with the exception of some redactions to protect the privacy of officers and the people with whom they interact.

The website will be based on an intelligent dashboard model where if users are unsure what exactly they’re looking for, they can simply query the system. The goal, he emphasized, is to make the information as accessible as possible and the Center for Interdisciplinary Statistical Education and Research (CISER), an outreach mechanism for the university, will even be available to answer any questions.

Following the George Floyd incident in 2020, Dr. Makin received an email from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office asking two questions: if he was to be able to build a use of force data collection system and two, how much would it cost? Dr. Makin replied that if he were to create a passive system—meaning all the data is law enforcement supplied—and his team’s role would simply compile the data into information for the public, then it wouldn’t be financially doable.

Dr. Makin has spent his entire career working with law enforcement agencies and noticed that these agencies typically go through a third-party vendor to create and manage their data collection system, which makes it difficult for that agency to timely extract the data. For example, if an agency wants to refer to incidents where drugs were present, which many needed to do following the state’s Blake Decision in 2021, it took six to nine months, in some cases, to get reliable data.

The project is being funded by Washington State Senate Bill 5259, concerning law enforcement data collection, which was signed into law by Governor Inslee on May 18, 2021.

Upcoming WSU Everett Empowered Speaker Event

WSU Everett empowered
Dr. Carolyn Finney

Washington State University’s (WSU) second Everett Empowered speaker event is scheduled for April 18, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., featuring Dr. Carolyn Finney speaking about the environment and diversity in honor of Earth Day.

Dr. Finney, the renowned author of “Black Faces, White Spaces,” brings to the forefront the often-unheard voices and experiences of African Americans in environmental spaces. Her work illuminates the importance of diversity in environmental narratives and policies, making her an exemplary figure to join our series.

To learn more and register for this FREE event visit: https://everett.wsu.edu/everett-empowered/.

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