Hack the System: Solving the Problem of Abusive Policing and Transparency

Last weekend I participated in Illicit Mind’s Hack the System hackathon hosted at The Startup Institute. All hackathon projects had to center around solving one of the four problems:

  1. How can we leverage current technology in order to close the diversity gap in tech?
  2. How can we use tech to address the negative effects of gentrification?
  3. How can we counter police brutality and improve police surveillance using tech?
  4. How can we use tech to teach financial awareness in underprivileged communities?

I chose to work on how to counter police brutality and improve police surveillance using tech. I teamed up with some really awesome people and we churned out what I think was a pretty great MVP, see it live: CitizensSquad.

The event itself wasn’t the most organized or well executed hackathon I’ve been to… there were a few logistical issues that weren’t really considered that could have made it more enjoyable, like heat on the coldest day of the year, food on Friday evening since we’re all coming straight from work for the kickoff starting at 5:45/6pm until 9pm, letting us know the criteria of how the projects will be judged on day one, having mentors circling earlier on in the event so feedback could actually be executed are among the few big improvements that could have been made. Also on day two I really got the vibe that the term ‘hackathon’ was very liberal, we were actually discouraged from trying technologies we weren’t familiar with or implementing more involved prototypes which at its core is what makes a hackathon (IMO). I’ve been to hackathons where demos of power points were considered but that’s generally the exception not the norm, I got the impression that they were pushing more for this and a prototype was the ‘nice to have’ which would make this event more of a pitch-a-thon. It also seemed like judges, well, one in particular was interested on monetization rather than how well your project solved the proposed problem, literally saying ‘forget non-profit stuff, it’s tired’…

Overall though, Illicit Mind did deliver on cultivating a community of like-minded individuals in the tech sphere and I really appreciated that. This was the first hackathon I’ve been to where my team was composed of equal parts women and men and that was an awesome feeling. So despite these critiques I enjoyed the work my team and I accomplished.

My team created Citizens Squad, a way to empower and inform everyday citizens (however, currently our data is centered locally in NYC, next up the world!). The idea of this site was to aggregate data about reported abusive policing and incite people to reach out to legislators to ask for accountability and change. This project evolved as it was developed and is still evolving as more and more data becomes available. We were inspired by the depth and breadth of reporting accounted in Chicago with The Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project and hope to have something as transparent in NYC and, really, all throughout the US. We are still digging to see what data is available for NYC and phase I of Citizens Squad’s call to action may just be achieving that level of transparency and asking legislators to require the disclosure of this information in easily accessible and consumable ways. We’re still early on in our research so any resources that you may know, please share!

If you’re interested, where we got the data we’ve used so far you can find that information on Civilian Complaint Review Board and The Counted by The Guardian. We also sourced the legislator information from the Open States API. This page was done in less than a day, that said, there are some known bugs and we are working to fixing those. If you have any other feedback/issues/questions feel free to email us via the feedback button on the page so it goes to the team (preferred) or comment below, I’m happy to help.