The power and promise of open data: A Freedom of Information Act request puts some numbers behind the charges of police discrimination.
I once heard it said that every successful Freedom of Information Act request is a failure of open government. In other words, every time activists, journalists, or other citizens are able to get data or other records through a FOIA request, that information should have already been available, somehow, somewhere on the Internet, without the hassle of a request process. The thinking is that FOIA is an antiquated system, designed for a time when the government did not have a great way to make the information it holds public. Now doing so is (relatively) easy, but the FOIA system persists, putting the government in an essentially passive role as a resource.
The results of such a request from VíveloHoy, a Spanish-language Chicago-based news site, show just how powerful government data can be. Recently, VíveloHoy submitted FOIA requests to the police departments of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois, looking for five years of arrest data broken down by race. Champaign and Urbana are two different municipalities that, straddled by the University of Illinois, function as one metro area. The request has now been fulfilled, and, VíveloHoy says, "We found major disparities in the number of arrests of black people in both communities."