On Philanthropy and Police Accountability: Knight Foundation Lifts Up Chicago Police Data Project

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: February 04, 2016

Thanks to Nonprofit Quarterly for bringing our attention to a recent and timely Knight News Challenge award winner. The Invisible Institute’s Chicago Police Data Project provides the public with a database of Chicago Police Department misconduct complaint reports and their outcomes. The project’s data analyses were oft-cited in the media in December 2015, on the heels of video footage released by CPD, which showed the police shooting of African American Laquan McDonald as he walked away from the white officer.

As the Movement for Black Lives and others organize to improve policy accountability and combat the institutionalized racism so frequently exhibited with deadly consequences, this type of project shows tremendous potential for replication throughout the country. Another winner of the same news challenge visually documents patterns in highway patrol vehicle stops.

What makes the Chicago project stand out in this crop of winners and in contrast to some recent Knight challenges that are focused on technology innovation is not only its applicable use in communities of color, but also its connections with those communities. I am heartened to see that this project has already initiated many community relationships and will build on them. According to the online submission:

“The data tools we create will have little impact if they are not widely used. We intend to organize public campaigns to promote them in the neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago most affected by patterns of police abuse. We will work closely with community organizations and neighborhood leaders to coordinate their popular deployment. The relationships we have built over the past decade will allow us to bring these tools to the citizens most affected by police misconduct through networks they already know and trust.”

In the second round of the challenge process, Knight asked the applicants to elaborate on how communities would benefit from the program. They explained:

“Our fight for records began more than a decade ago through immersion among public housing residents on the South Side of Chicago. These residents, those most affected by police misconduct and abuse, have since been effectively erased from the city’s landscape – their homes demolished as part of a former mayor’s plan for urban renewal – but they remain our touchstone, informing our work over time.

“As an organization, we remain engaged with communities impacted by police abuse and misconduct, including Chicago teens through our Youth/Police Project, a collaboration with a nearby high school. On several occasions, we have observed Chicago high school students interact with the first iteration of our database. They have found great utility in the project, intuitively engaging with the information as they searched by neighborhood, home address and other areas that they frequent for misconduct complaints.”

The project is run by a small group of journalists, activists and technologists, which perhaps explains why its application is so strongly rooted in the communities it seeks to benefit.

Knight also partnered with Open Society Foundations and Data&Society in conducting this latest challenge, which may have contributed to the selection of some winners working at the intersection of equity and civil rights and technology and big data.

Our recent Philamplify assessment of Knight asked, “Can It Look Beyond #ShinyBrightObjects and Do More to Promote Equity?” The report found that Knight’s attention to equity concerns was not as strong and consistent as its commitment to innovation. Yet this grant announcement, as well as Knight’s recent $1.2 million, three-year grant to a prior news challenge winner, Code2040 (announced the same day we made our evaluation public) demonstrates that Knight not only can, but it is doing more to marry innovation and equity. Kudos to Knight Foundation!

Lisa Ranghelli is NCRP’s director of foundation assessment and co-authored the Philamplify assessment of Knight Foundation with Peter Haldis. Follow @NCRP on Twitter and join the #Philamplify conversation.

CC image by AlwaysShooting.