January 27, 2014
Courtesy of NIJ Acting Director Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D. Recently, I was pleased to be part of a discussion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about using open data to support the Department of Justice’s core responsibility: protecting public and officer safety. It was part of a series of conversations that began in September 2012, when the White House held its first “Safety Datapalooza.” At that event NIJ announced the first Justice Department Challenge, seeking innovative solutions for determining the performance of body armor. In November we announced the winner of that challenge -- the team from Purdue University's school of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering. The Challenge process represents a unique approach to innovation for those of us in government, while it gives the field tremendous creative leverage to develop ideas and products to enhance our ability to meet our public service mission across the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has long been active in improving public access to data. To date, OJP has released almost 700 datasets to Data.gov, covering 20 years of crime victimization statistics, 35 years of prisoner statistics, and 10 years’ worth of grant awards, among many others. This has allowed developers and the public access to important criminal justice data in open and useable formats. Keeping the momentum going, we issued another challenge: we’re looking for ideas for the design and creation of Ultra-High Speed Network (UHS)-compatible apps that measurably improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice and public safety services and operations. These could be apps that alert criminal justice and public safety agencies to threats and disasters and help avoid or mitigate the impact of those disasters. They could be apps that provide simulation for law enforcement and first responders. Or they could enhance training and provide new methods of analysis. Protecting America’s law enforcement officers is one of our top priorities at the Justice Department. Through body armor standards and testing programs, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program and our VALOR training initiative, we’ve devoted substantial resources to keeping our law enforcement officers safe. But we’re always looking for ways to do an even better job of protecting officers. Our task is how to deliver the rich supply of data available to support public and officer safety quickly and in a manner that improves service delivery. Until now, we’ve been limited by Web-based technology pipelines, which are subject to buffering and other delays and restrict the amount of data that can be transmitted. The expansion of UHS networks gives us increased opportunities for the development of “disruptive” criminal justice apps – apps that actually change the way services and information are delivered to criminal justice and other public safety practitioners. New UHS apps have the potential to provide ubiquitous, real-time, individually tailored information and decision support for criminal justice and public safety practitioners in rapidly evolving emergency situations. Some of these changes have already taken place in citywide and local networks in the US, where they have given startups and students the same opportunity as industry and researchers to develop, test and deploy next-generation apps and services. The Challenge is open to everyone who has ideas about ways to use ultra-high-speed apps to keep law enforcement and communities safer. Please accept this Challenge, and create innovative software applications that employ freely available government data to advance public safety. Learn more about the UHS Challenge, including deadlines and announcement dates.
Updated September 15, 2014