Kamala Harris' crime data portal leaves out key details

California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaking in February in Menlo Park.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaking in February in Menlo Park. File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Attorney General Kamala Harris debuted a website Wednesday that makes the state's crime data more accessible — but omits key public information. 

At a press conference in Los Angeles, Harris called the portal, named OpenJustice, "a first-of-its-kind criminal justice open data initiative that embraces transparency."

She said the roiling national debate on policing and race influenced her decision to launch OpenJustice, and that the site has been in the works since earlier this year. The Attorney General, who is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat in 2016, argued that data could help ground discussions around policing.

"Part of this conversation should take place looking at the data," Harris said.

The portal showcases the criminal justice data with interactive charts, and downloadable spreadsheets. But users of OpenJustice will only see a fraction of the Department of Justice's data there. And key details readily available through public information requests are omitted from the data on the site.

For example, the state's deaths in custody database contains extensive demographic information about the hundreds of prisoners who die behind bars each year — but not their names.

Another database, devoted to attacks on police officers, lumps together key information about those incidents, leaving out the agencies the officers worked for and the month of the incident. Without those specifics, the database contains far less information. A version of the information obtained by KPCC last month through public records requests contained 2,442 rows of data about assaults on officers in 2014. Harris's portal contains only one. 

In addition, of the 15 datasets listed on a section of the DOJ's website about crime statistics, just three made it into OpenJustice. 

David Beltran, spokesman for Kamala Harris, said that focusing on what's not on the portal misses the point. "We released data that we could validate now, and can contribute to the critical conversation taking place in our communities now," Beltran wrote in an email. He added that the portal will be updated with more data.

In response to a question about the absent information, a DOJ spokeswoman directed KPCC towards a section of the website that reads, "our office will limit the publication of personally identifiable information to that which is both legally authorized and relevant."

Much of the personally identifiable information absent from OpenJustice has been available via records requests and reported on for years.

'Open data' portals have become a trend in government in recent years. OpenJustice is unlike many Southern California data sites, which are often farmed out to a small group of contractors. Harris said that the Department of Justice built the website in-house and didn't hire any new staff to develop it.

Harris said the website launched as version 1.0.

"There will be room for improvement and growth," she said.

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