The blog of the Urban Institute
May 27, 2020

Exploring Police Activity and Community Trust in Los Angeles Neighborhoods

To increase transparency and accountability to the communities they serve, police departments across the country are publicly sharing detailed data on their activity, including reported crime, calls for service, and arrests. With meaningful analyses and community engagement, these data can support efforts toward building understanding and trust between communities and police.

A look at resident and police activity in Los Angeles neighborhoods

As part of a National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership project on data to inform criminal justice reform, we collaborated with Microsoft to create a comprehensive measure of community-police engagement using open data on calls for service, stops, arrests, and crime in Los Angeles, California. We analyzed how components of this measure varied across neighborhoods.

By isolating resident calls for service as a proxy for community trust, we found that neighborhoods with more calls for service (resident-initiated activity) tend to also have more stops and arrests (police-initiated activity). But in the neighborhoods with the most resident- and police-initiated activity, stops and arrests outpace calls for service.

In contrast, the neighborhoods with low and moderate levels of resident- and police-initiated activity have more calls for service than stops and arrests. This difference could mean police use different strategies in neighborhoods with high activity or that residents are less willing to call the police.

High-activity neighborhoods also have greater shares of calls for service for serious emergencies and violent crimes. The lower ratio of calls for service, combined with the increased severity of the calls and crime, could indicate residents in these neighborhoods have a higher threshold for when they call 911 or that they don’t call because of a lack of trust in police.

Chart: police calls for service in Los Angeles

How can we use data to build better relationships between police and communities?

We don’t know for sure why these patterns exist, but conversations between communities and police can uncover and help address the reasons and build trust. In Los Angeles, the University of Southern California’s Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, a collaborator on this analysis, is facilitating local data-driven community engagement around policing by sharing neighborhood-level data on policing and hosting community meetings of representatives from local police departments, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

Together with the Microsoft Criminal Justice Reform Initiative and Data Science and Analytics teams, we created an interactive Power BI tool that Los Angeles residents can use to visualize policing patterns across the city and explore how their neighborhood fits into our typology of resident-initiated and police-initiated activity.

Outside of Los Angeles, we hope exploring the data and findings with our visualization tool and learning about our methods will inspire data analysts and criminal justice advocates in other cities to promote open data and conduct similar analyses for their communities.

Creating a common set of facts and focusing on smaller geographies within a city can help direct conversations between communities and police toward a shared understanding and collaborative solutions.

Photo was changed to better align with content (updated 5/27/20).

Los Angeles Police Department  officers wear facial covering while monitoring an "Open California" rally in downtown Los Angeles, on April 22, 2020.  (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

 

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.