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Allegheny County Policing Project simplifies police policies for the community

  • Technology & Science
  • Community Impact
  • Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Faculty and students at the University of Pittsburgh debuted two tools to bring more transparency to the police accountability process at the local level.

After the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ (GSPIA) Center for Analytical Approaches to Social Innovation (CAASI) launched Grief to Action to help people process their pain in a productive way. The Grief to Action collective then launched the Allegheny County Policing Project (ACPP), a data platform designed to simplify police-government-citizen interactions and policies.

These contract analysis and police misconduct tools include a searchable library of almost 100 police contracts, an interactive map of Allegheny County’s more than 100 police departments and a guide to help people navigate the complexity of filing misconduct complaints.

“We’re simply trying to help citizens navigate this very complicated safety structure and understand the hyper-fragmentation of policing and this public data that is difficult to access,” said Grief to Action founder Sera Linardi, a GSPIA associate professor of economics.

The tools launched Nov. 19 during the Year of Data and Society Conference, an annual initiative hosted by the Office of the Provost. This year’s theme focused on how data can be leveraged to improve the world around us.

“Having all this information in one database and demystifying what citizens’ rights are relating to police is super important moving forward, especially as we begin having broader conversations as a country,” said Ivy Chang, CAASI communications coordinator and a University Honors College student studying finance and economics. “This breakdown and having everything on the table so citizens can see the big picture is essential and allows us to tread ground ourselves to see what issues exist in the current system and work from there, based on data.”

Mikaela Chandler, a social policy graduate student in GSPIA and director of equity in the school’s student cabinet, leads ACPP with Eliana Beigel, another graduate student and CAASI project manager. Chandler sees ACPP’s role as simplifying and facilitating conversations about policing and making pertinent information and documents more accessible — a necessity Grief to Action members discovered after having issues finding answers about policing in Allegheny County. Local advocates also described difficulties accessing police union contracts and unraveling regional complaint filing processes, she said.

“ACPP grew directly from needs expressed from community members around police transparency in Allegheny County,” Chandler said.

Grief to Action involved community partners and experts at every stage to offer insights, which “made our project successful in creating the tool we are so proud of now,” Chandler said, emphasizing that it is for members of marginalized groups, community members and advocates.

“It’s ambitious, but this is something that could have applications on a national scale,” Chang said.

Compiling data for the platform is an ongoing endeavor managed by Grief to Action members.

While ACPP now has help from partners including activists from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as organizations including Data for Black Lives and the Coalition Against Predictive Policing, project and platform maintenance initially needed “a lot of effort,” Chandler said. The contract tool alone required paperwork, months of tracking down municipal government officials, paying fees and converting documents to a searchable text format.

But the time and effort are worth it, Chandler said.

“It’s no secret that people of color face a disproportionately higher rate of police misconduct in our country, especially Black residents,” she said. “As the migrant population continues to grow and policy battles continue, that group could be vulnerable and need help understanding how a complaint process or contract works in terms.”

Chandler said she has always been interested in criminal justice reform, but after Floyd was murdered, she saw “a new spark in our country to start putting work into fixing the broken systems around us. As a woman of color, I have a deep and personal connection to racism in policing, and I wanted to be a part of the group that was trying to do something about it strategically with data.”


— Kara Henderson