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Research: Policing Database

News Story

Dyson Professor Hasan Arslan and Seidenberg Professor Daniel Farkas have collaborated on the Statistics Help Officer Training Database System, a project several years in the making, that can help make major headway in improving police and community relations.

“I got this idea—I saw there’s no national database on police shootings—so I decided to build a database for that purpose,” says Hasan Arslan, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice, and creator of the Statistics Help Officer Training Database System.

Prior to coming to Pace, Arslan worked on a database that was related to tracking terrorists and extremist activities around the world, using open sources to gather information and better understand various groups and individuals. A few years ago, Arslan realized that this same process would be very valuable for better understanding the causes and factors that result in police shootings in the United States—and sought to develop the database in collaboration with Daniel Farkas, PhD, of Seidenberg’s Department of Information Systems.

“Dr. Arslan had been working on a database that was related to terror incidents around the world—at the same time he was thinking about police shootings in the US—this was before it was in the news everyday. The idea is to look at open sources, because there’s no national or official national database of police shootings in the US—they exist in police departments and cities, but from a data perspective they’re all different…different departments collect data differently,” says Farkas.

In other words, Arslan wanted to create a singular database that combined the databases of individual departments and cities that allowed individuals to interpret the data in a universal manner.

“The project collects data from open sources—newspaper, newsfeeds, websites, and so on—it encodes them into 50 plus variables and currently records them in a spreadsheet,” says Farkas.

In order to implement his vision (Arslan envisions a Google Maps-type database that heavily relies on geo-location and easy access of the several dozen variables), he enlisted the help of Professor Farkas to make the idea a reality.

“I’ve got all the hardware, he’s got all the software,” jokes Arslan.

With the help of Farkas and several graduate students who worked on the database for their capstone project, Arslan created the database, which currently exists privately on Seidenberg’s site. The next phase, says Arslan, is to develop it further for practical use.

“We have the database itself—the second phase requires implementing all the database functions to facilitate its operation and more complex analysis. The data is being collected, but as with any intelligence business, without analysis and dissemination it’s worthless. We would love to use the depository for police academy training, to share with academia, conferences, papers...”

Arslan and Farkas have applied for grants, including with the Department of Justice, to take the project with the next level. They hope to be able to hire someone to maintain and update the database, fund its location, and acquire the resources that will enable the data to make a meaningful impact.

Several years in the making, the project, a Westchester Campus interdisciplinary collaboration between Dyson and Seidenberg, could not come at a more pressing time. With issues of police brutality and police/community relations at the forefront of national news and conversation, the database can provide the tools to help law enforcement, government officials, and the general public better understand the causes of police shootings—and use that information to help build a better tomorrow. 

“What we would hope is that it would encourage both researchers and policymakers to use the database to get a better understanding of when, why, and how police shootings occur,” says Farkas.