Data Visualization Challenge: Using Open Data to Reduce Crime

Criminal justice agencies collect a variety of information and use it in multiple ways. Having a clear understanding of current realities is critical to shaping policies and improving the administration of justice. Police use data to identify hot spots; judges use it when they impose sentences; victim assistance staff use it to provide better services.

The problem is that criminal justice datasets are often large, complex, and contain a wide variety of geocodes and identifiers. Crime analysts who use the data daily often find it difficult to convey their message in a way that is engaging and easy to understand for lay audiences, such as district attorneys, mayors, and legislators, who need the data to make good decisions.

To help harness the power and increase accessibility of existing data, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) have issued a Data Visualization Challenge as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Digital Strategy.

The Data Visualization Challenge asks contestants to create innovative approaches that make criminal justice data presentable in ways that increase understanding, ensure broad access, and account for the statistical complexities of existing data. Solutions might include infographics, dashboards, static or interactive visualizations and incorporate data from non-criminal justice sources, such as public health data, geographic identifiers or public spending data, to provide insight into justice system outcomes or crime-related phenomena.

But the Data Visualization Challenge is also about more than making criminal justice data visually engaging. By issuing the Challenge, NIJ and BJS are initiating an effort to make national-level criminal justice data more accessible to the public and contribute to government-wide initiatives on open data and transparency. The Challenge also encourages researchers and agencies to partner with one another when analyzing and visualizing complementary datasets from different agencies and areas of specialization.

Analyzing and presenting data in a clear and compelling way allows criminal justice actors, policy makers and the public to better understand how they can leverage existing data to develop better policies, funding streams, and responses to criminal justice problems; and gain new insight by combining criminal justice data with other relevant publicly accessible data sources. The NIJ and BJS Data Visualization Challenge is just one step towards using open data to make evidence-based changes that improve criminal justice outcomes.

From uncovering differences in criminal court case processing to exploring the systemwide costs of various crimes, this Challenge is an opportunity to conduct analysis on complex criminal justice problems while providing examples for how to better visualize criminal justice data.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our December Editorial Theme around Crowdsourcing. Check out the other theme articles we’re publishing this month.