MPD, MPS, and Open Data
Bradley Tech, a fight, gangs, guns, and more squad cars than you can count. And no news. Why? What happened?
For years much of the crime reporting on the evening news worked like this: Listen to scanner, put out news story.
But today with the Milwaukee Police Department’s move to OpenSky radios, and more importantly to digitally encrypted communications, the days of scanner based reporting are coming to an end. Maybe that’s a good thing, because having officer communications listened to in real time could possibly impact their security. But somewhere between MPD and MPS, a press release, statement, or a news conference should of been held to notify the public of the events. It didn’t happen.
Representatives from MPD responded to complaints that the public wasn’t notified by pointing out that the calls for service were visible on the City of Milwaukee’s website, at least for awhile. And yes, a close look at the page might have clued a very astute, and likely bored, reporter to notice something big had happened. But even this would only have been possible within a short window of time, and only with very careful monitoring, as after 90 minutes the data is no longer available from the website. Removing the data after 90 minutes is hardly open, accurate, or easily monitored.
Alderman Donovan has suggested allowing certain news agencies access to the radio communications, and although that is one solution, another is to work towards providing the dispatch log in an open machine readable format. This would offer developers and news agencies the opportunity to build mashups, a web application that combines data from multiples source, to monitor the activities of MPD. These applications could include mapping tools, alert systems, and even monitoring applications to start, but with the addition of other data, such as liquor licenses or violations, citizens would be better prepared to work with the city in improving their neighborhoods.
This may never replace the level of detail that officer to officer communications once provided, but it could be a small step towards open government in Milwaukee and hopefully a big step away from conflict and disenfranchisement.