Who Is The Man? Law Enforcement or The Rest Of Us?

October 16, 2016

I attended numerous events in Washington DC during my time as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, but the most memorable experience was my participation in the Officer Safety Data Jam. The federal government won't use the term "hackathon", so we called these types of events "data jams". Which I actually prefer, because I think the expectations set are a little more realistic than what I see occur at many hackathons--we wouldn't be building an app, it was all about having discussions about how open data can make an impact in a specific sector.

I walked into the Officer Safety Data Jam that day and grabbed one of the remaining seats up front in a room of around 50 people, who were looking to discuss how open data can make a positive impact in the law enforcement community. After the MC kicked things off he handed the reigns over to then White House CTO Todd Park to give one his passionate speeches around the importance of open data at all levels of government (love me some Todd Park motivational talks). As he was closing, he added that if anyone needed to know where the valuable open data and APIs were, that I was their man--pointing directly at me, then walking over to emphasize:

If you need anything open data or APIs this is your man! (Pointing down at me) You all should be paying attention to him!

The MC took over and suggested we start by introducing ourselves and said "what better place to start than with this gentleman", handing the microphone to me. I introduced myself as Kin Lane, Presidential Innovation Fellow, and the API Evangelist, and passed the microphone on down the line. The next person introduced themselves as director data analysis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the next being at Alchohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), working through each of the federal law enforcement agencies, and concluding with directors at the two of the major police associations. OK. I appreciate you telling all these folks to keep an eye on me, Todd! ;-)

It was the first time I truly appreciated the camouflage capcity of being a white dude, with short hair, no beard, in a blue suit. I'm invisible. I'm invisible. Anyways, as the event continued, we broke into groups and began the process of identifying projects and discussing are visions, which included some of the pros and cons involved with opening up the data we needed. During one of the presentations, I recalled one of the female police officers, who was head of one of the police associations mention that her primary concern was that "the man" could get a hold of data and hurt one of her officers.

Wait, I thought law enforcement was the man? That was the narrative I've been told my whole life. As she provided more detail, she was concerned with "the man", meaning journalists, the public, and specific government actors, using open data to compromise the authority, safety, and position held the police offers in her charge. My mind was blown. Having never hung out in law enforcement circles, this was an entirely new perspective for me, and how "the man" can be whoever is policing, and exercising authority in your world.

Attending this Officer Saftey Jam was an eye-opening experience for me. First off, it humanized law enforcement for me in a way that had never occurred before. Next, it showed me that no matter who you are, there is always some menacing, authoritative presence that we consider to be "the man". After also experiencing an increased amount of scrutiny as a government employee, appointed by the White House, all of this opened up an entirely new dimension in how authority is perceived. Honestly, it was somewhat empowering, as I realized that law enforcement didn't have the monompoloy on being "the man", and that I could also be "the man". 

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