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St. John police car

Amid national concerns over public safety, it’s important for police and citizens to work together. That requires arming citizens with data about crime in their communities.

The St. John Police Department is expanding the amount of data it releases online, at st.johnin.com/PD, as part of a national effort to increase transparency and accountability. St. John’s department is one of just two in Indiana — the other is Bloomington — and 54 nationwide to release open data on hate- and bias-motivated crimes.

St. John also is among 17 police departments in Northwest Indiana to post crime maps at nwi.com/regionalcrimereport. Residents can look there to see where crimes have occurred in their neighborhoods and elsewhere.

At St. John’s website, the department is sharing data sets that include arrest demographics, daily calls for service, community engagement, crime mapping, monthly reports, officer-involved shootings, officer response to resistance, peddler/solicitor licenses, traffic stops, traffic accidents, traffic citation demographics, traffic warning demographics and year-end reports.

“It’s data that has always been available to the public, but they were required to come in and ask for it,” St. John Police Chief James Kveton said. “We just put it out there. It’s no big deal.”

Except that it really is a big deal. In communities that have had controversies erupt over the way police have interacted with civilians — particularly when allegations of racism or other forms of prejudice are involved — data can show whether perceptions are accurate.

The Police Foundation praised St. John’s release of data on hate- and bias-motivated crimes as an important step in promoting transparency and increasing awareness.

St. John’s data show two bias-motivated crimes, both anti-black, one in 2005 and one in 2009.

Kveton said the department joined the Police Data Initiative in 2016, shortly after it was established as part of former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“A lot of this is the technical ability to get it online,” Kveton said. “As we’ve come up with a way to do it, we’ve added data sets.”

It’s cheaper to put the data online than to pay employees to search for records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, he said.

It’s a benefit to the residents and police, too, as sharing data helps build confidence in the police department and holds police accountable.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.