Hackers from in and around Louisville teamed up to use data to promote public safety. | Photo by Michelle Eigenheer

The mission for the civic hackers was clear: put city government statistics on police gun intake, 911 calls and 311 calls to good use.

About 50 civic hackers took over the LouieLab space on West Main Street on Saturday to take part in Code for America’s sixth annual CodeAcross event to do just that.

Louisville Metro Government and the Civic Data Alliance co-hosted the public safety hackathon. The alliance is Louisville’s local Code for America brigade, made up of over 400 civic hackers. Its co-founder, Michael Schnuerle, now the city’s chief data officer, would rally the troops for the daylong event.

“My role is citizen-focused because I want to make sure we’re releasing information that the public can use — when we’re doing analysis, for transparency reasons and to make sure we’re granular enough and detailed enough to be useful. And it’s something that’s in demand,” said Schnuerle, data officer for the Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation.

Just across the hall from the Louisville Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation, the civic hackers branched out to adapt the data sets on police gun intake, emergency services calls and MetroCall 311 calls. From these, the team worked to create tools for the public that promote public safety.

Future data sets to be released in connection with this hackathon is 911 data, Narcan/opioid administration and deaths, and fire response information.

“What you guys are focused on today in particular, public safety — if you’re in Louisville right now you know that we’ve had a real increase in homicides in the last 18 months,” said Mayor Fischer when he stopped by to meet and address hackathon participants. “And yet we’re throwing resources at it in a smart way — like we never have before, both on the police side and the prevention side… I’m hoping a lot of the work you’re doing will help out.”

Mayor Fischer addresses the hackathon. | Photo by Michelle Eigenheer

Schnuerle said his goal for the hackathon was “for people to get familiar with this data, to know that it exists, so they can continue to work on it after the event and get involved,” he said. “And to network with other like-minded people. To work together and know that there are other people out there who can do these analyses and work with the data.”

Several teams were formed, one creating a crime feed tool for Alexa users. The crime feed, planned to go live this week, will allow users to ask Alexa for information on crime in Louisville, as well as some specifics, like reports of a robbery in a particular area. Other Alexa tools created during the hackathon include Louisville city events, Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement and hate crime data.

Another group worked to clean up Louisville Metro Police Department’s gun intake information, which includes everything from where a gun was taken, to what company manufactured it. In cases in which guns were confiscated during an arrest, an incident report number is attached, but not information on the crime. One goal of the team was to bring the data to a place where it could be useful, perhaps by visualizing gun intake instances with the incident, or even using it as a tool to predict crime.

A visualization of gun intake information, created during the hackathon and shared through Schnuerle’s Twitter feed.

Another group worked to organize data collected in a 2012 survey by Vision Louisville. The survey asked respondents to give feedback and suggestions in a number of categories, including creativity, economy, energy, health, identity, connectivity and living. What did Louisvillians in 2012 want? Street art, bike lanes and a pro basketball team topped the list. Some requests were met, such as the installation of greenways and the founding of a city soccer team. Others were trickier to accomplish: “Bring Elon Musk’s Hyperloop to Louisville,” one respondent said.

Most of the data sets being used during the hackathon are openly available to the public through Louisville Metro’s Open Data Portal.

“I view the data as the gas in the engine to make services for citizens,” said Matt Gotth-Olsen, who works in digital services for Louisville Metro Government, managing the public website and Open Data Portal.

“We’re doing all kinds of things to find out how people like to interface with technology,” Gotth-Olsen continued. “But what does the modern government look like? Government is slow. It’s slow, it’s unresponsive and it doesn’t need to be. We have all these tools now through the explosion of the Internet and computers that we can really change the landscape of what government and democracy looks like in really awesome ways, really empowering ways.”

As he closed his address at the hackathon, Mayor Fischer said: “I think it shows the power of what you guys are doing and what you can do, by bringing some light to those issues. You’re really helping the city, not just with this, but as a leader in civic innovation.”  Things like the hackathon, he added, “have really made a lot of other mayors of other cities jealous of what we’re doing.”

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