December Update

December Update

Since June, CopDB has been moving very quickly, and is finally out of beta! 🎉

We’ve also added a ton of data on cops in Utah, started to define the goals and role of the project, added new infrastructure to coordinate with interested people, and perhaps most importantly, have started actually using the database to shed light on the tainted histories of a number of local cops. This post is going to be an overview of the progress we’ve made, but if you’d rather see for yourself, feel free to head over to the app and hit ‘Create Account’ in the top right.

Project Structure

The non-technical structure of the project is vital to encouraging fellow abolitionists to engage with CopDB. Without their help, the project will not be able to expand to a point where it is useful outside of Utah, and will be limited even here. Unfortunately, attracting interested people is hard, especially when the news cycle isn’t focused on police violence. To address this we’ve put effort into direct outreach through social media, set up an easier chat server for people to join and coordinate in, and started a documentation site for the project that can help users, moderators, and eventually people wanting to host their own instances.

Before being able to effectively reach out to people to draw them into the project we needed a place to point them to answer the question “Why CopDB?”. This question is central to this project and our answer to it can be found on the CopDB About page.

So far the majority of our outreach has been on Instagram. While we were hesitant to focus too much effort there, assuming we might simply get banned, it has provided us our first opportunity to use the database to directly counter copaganda. We’ve already had incidents where, when news broke about an officer stalking his ex, as Austin Levi Christofferson did, we were able to provide a photo of the offender, seemingly the only group that could. Or when Taylorsville PD recently hired Michael Lee Fullwood, they gushed about his ‘exceptional career in law enforcement with a previous agency.’ What they didn’t mention was that during his time at that previous department, West Jordan PD, he was involved in a horrific incident where a police dog shredded an unarmed man’s face while the man had his hands raised. Maybe Taylorsville didn’t mean ‘exceptional career’ in a good way… This ability to quickly run the name of any cop posted on social media and respond with detailed accounts of their behavior has already been powerful, even though we’ve only just begun using it.

The last structural addition is the documentation site. Though it is currently sparse, the goal is to slowly fill it with simple, searchable, entries explaining everything from how to use CopDB, how to submit data, how to moderate data, and eventually how to run another CopDB instance.

Features

Since June, we’ve added a number of new features to CopDB. These include captchas for user verification, demographic data and filters for cops, preliminary incidents, and media details and relationships.

To prevent abuse from bots, user verification has been improved with the addition of captchas. Now, when creating an account, users will be prompted to solve a simple captcha to verify that they’re human.

As we mentioned in our June update, we were grappling with the idea of adding demographic information to a cop’s profile to aid in identification. Our main area of concern was the use of race and gender as characteristics for search filtering, and the potential for these to perpetuate harmful norms. Ultimately, we decided that the pros of being able to effectively filter for cops by their demographic data outweighs the potential cons, and while these concerns are important, addressing them does not need to start with protecting cops. Now new cops, or edits to existing cops, include fields for eye color, hair color, gender, race, and whether they have visible tattoos. These fields map on to the new filters in the cops table, where you can narrow down the results based on whatever visual information you may have about the cop you’re trying to identify.

When reporting incidents, there may be  cases where the report is incomplete, but we still want to get it published so that it’s publicly available. To support this, we’ve added a new “Preliminary” flag to the incident form to indicate that its information is incomplete. When viewing a preliminary incident, a warning banner is displayed noting that the incident is in need of more information. Additionally, incidents can be filtered by this preliminary flag. Doing so is an easy way for people interested in helping to start inputting needed data.

Finally, we’ve added some powerful new features around media details and media relationships. Media items on the cop and incident pages now have a link to view the media details. Clicking this link takes you to the new media details page that lists all the cops and incidents that media relates to. Also, logged in users can now suggest edits to a media item using the “Suggest edit” button in the bottom-right corner. From here, the display name can be updated, and the cops or incidents related to the media can be modified. Check out the video here for an overview of these features in action.

Now that we’re out of beta and have sign ups enabled, we need as much help as we can get! If you’d like to help with inputting data, have feature ideas or bug reports, or are just generally interested in the project, please create a CopDB account and join our chat server.

In the words of Geo Maher, “The strongest antidote to the police, and to the violence that they don’t prevent – because it justifies their existence – is community.”