KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A new public evaluation of policing in the United States scored the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department 496th out of 500 departments nationwide, but only some agencies responded to records requests for data for Police Scorecard, while others simply provided portions of the requested information, resulting in incomplete data that is not easily comparable.
The Police Scorecard project is the first nationwide public evaluation of policing in the country. It calculates levels of police accountability, violence, racial bias and other policing outcomes for over 16,000 law enforcement agencies, according to its website.
It then provides law enforcement with a score ranging from zero to 100% based on the number of low-level arrests made through a department, amount of times excessive force was used, how often officers were held accountable for misconduct, diversity and racial disparities, and the amount of funding it received.
Cities with higher scores spend less on policing, use less force, are more likely to hold officers accountable and make fewer arrests for low-level offenses, and vice versa.
“The Police Scorecard is an attempt to collect all the data that we’re able to reasonably gather on the nation’s police departments, put it in one place, and then use it to actually evaluate things that communities, legislators and the media have called for,” Samuel Sinyangwe, founder of the Police Scorecard project, told FOX4.
“I think, ultimately, departments ought to be pushed to make that data public.”
How did local agencies fare?
Only four police departments in Kansas City metro area provided enough data for analysis, according to Police Scorecard’s website: KCPD, Kansas City, Kansas Police Department [KCKPD], Independence Police Department and the Lee’s Summit Police Department.
Independence scored 36%, ranking 457th out of 500. Lee’s Summit had the best score and rank of any metro agency with a 53%, good for 80th nationally.
Statewide in Kansas, KCKPD was one of only two that gave enough info, along with the Wichita Police Department. KCKPD scored 37%, which ranked 447th nationally. Wichita scored 42%, which ranked 346th.
In Missouri, departments in Springfield and St. Louis city and county had enough data to analyze. Springfield scored 41%, ranking at 375th. St. Louis city was right in front of Kansas City, scoring a 29% that placed the department 495th nationally. St. Louis County was rated much higher, with a 52%, good for 99th.
While each state’s agencies are dotted across their respective landscapes, an overwhelming majority are grayed-out, signifying those agencies didn’t provide enough data for the project.
“In the course of the scorecard, what we did was for agencies that we have incomplete data, their score is in gray,” Samuel Sinyangwe, founder of the Police Scorecard project told FOX4.
“You can compare them based on the data that’s available, but we wanted to make clear that they [a police department] haven’t provided as much data as other agencies, so take that with a grain of salt.”
Every other police department in the Kansas City region either did not respond, or only provided portions of the requested information.
Captain Leslie Foreman, public information officer with KCPD, said the project’s credibility is lacking.
“Our data is in fact complete and accurate… the problem comes with the comparison and rankings,” she told FOX4 in an email. “Many other departments’ data is not complete or verified, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.”
She said it is unfair to compare police departments data if the project is incomplete.
“A review of this data with our partners who professionally research and study the field of criminal justice leaves many questions about completeness, validity, and methods of information gathering, as well as comparison and analysis,” Foreman said.
“Those questions are not clearly answered, nor explained, on the website.”
Singyangwe said requesting and aggregating police data is challenging because few departments are transparent and willing to release records.
“In general, the things that we really had to fight to get access to involve records of police force, particularly, nonfatal force,” Singyangwe explained.
“There are only 12 states that have complete openness with regard to public records and police records. In many other states, it’s much more difficult. What you end up with is having to negotiate and push back against the police to get the amount of information that you need, but not the amount that you want.”
Many police departments have yet to provide substantial data to the project, resulting in incomplete data tracking, and making it nearly impossible to analyze. Singyangwe said this wouldn’t be an issue if police departments were legally required to make police records public.
For example, Singyangwe said one department might send over the total number of civilian complaints filed against law enforcement officers, but not release information regarding how many of those complaints are sustained. He said this might happen if a department’s internal affairs files are protected in a given state.
“The other piece of this is that police, particularly smaller departments, will say that they have to manually go through all of that paperwork to actually figure out the number of times, for example, officers used a taser in the past year,” he said. “They’ll charge hefty fees to do that.”
Singyangwe said some Departments tried charging up to $3,000 for police records, something he says just isn’t worth the cost.
The majority, if not all, states allow public agencies to charge a “reasonable” fee for labor and processing of a records request, but it should also provide a detailed invoice explaining the charges in full. If an agency does not include an invoice, it should send it over upon request.
Fee waivers can easily be attached to records requests providing an explanation for why a record should be released free of charge. However, fee waivers must first be accepted, or denied, by the public agency receiving the request, which means some records can still be pricey, even with a fee waiver.
“Getting the data is critical to understanding, first of all, what the problems are, where the problems are most acute, and then, more importantly, what the solutions can look like that actually work,” he said. “I think the data can provide a roadmap for how you can actually create real change, measurable change, in your community to advance public safety, to end police violence, to increase police accountability.”
Push for a common database
Police Scorecard data shows KCPD received a total average score of 28% for four sections: police funding, police violence, police accountability and approach to law enforcement. This is the lowest score of any police department in the Kansas City region, based on data currently available on the Police Scorecard.
“When folks are killed by the police, it is most likely reported in the media and that can be tracked,” Singyangwe said. “But outside of fatal force, non-fatal was much more difficult to actually track comprehensively, unless you get the data directly from the police department. What you find out is many departments don’t track that comprehensively internally anyway.”
KCPD provided more information and data to the Police Scorecard project than any other police department in Kansas City. Out of four categories analyzed, three of them included data in full.
The Wichita Police Department, as well as the Lee’s Summit Police Department, only provided sufficient data related to low-level arrests, homicides, and racial disparities in drug arrests. The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, however, did not release full data for any of the four categories analyzed.
The Independence Police Department provided full data on police violence and its approach to law enforcement. Information related to low-level arrests, homicides, racial disparities in drug arrests, the level of force used during an arrest, the number of unarmed victims involved in incidents of deadly force and racial disparities in deadly force were all submitted, in full, to the Police Scorecard project.
“This is a participatory project,” Singyangwe said. “This project only works if we can see the data. We will be making note of which cities are improving and which cities are not, and in what ways.”
Singyangwe said states should require police departments to submit all of the data to a central database. He said this is the only way to improve community engagement between law enforcement and the public, as well as improve policing across America, as a whole.
He also said citizens can encourage non-compliant police departments to submit data to the Police Scorecard project by forwarding the project’s data submission form onto the police chief, mayor, and city council members.
“This project can help us create a baseline plan to compare cities [policing practices] with one another, but it will never be able to collect as much data as if there was a nationwide mandate that all departments report this data, published online, to a common database,” he said.