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Our approach to scraping

Our target users are the thousands of people already using local data to make a direct impact on their local criminal justice system. Scraping is usually done for one specific purpose: to answer a question, or generate a report. We can support their work by connecting the community of PDAP volunteer scrapers with real, impactful projects.

After hundreds of hours of user research, we have determined that these are how we will add value in the police data landscape.
  • Track independently scraped data in our Data Sources database. Prevent duplication of effort by showing people what's already out there. To submit data you've scraped, start here.
  • Connect people with web scraping skills to community members trying to make better use of police data without technical expertise. This happens in the #data-exchange Discord channel.
  • Build open-source tools in the Scrapers repo to make running a scraper on-demand easier for people who don't know what "CLI" means.
  • Scrape data sources and agency metadata to populate the Data Sources database.

  • It's not an immediate priority to make a big database to store scraped data in the same format. The main reason this isn't a priority: this is not what our users are asking us for. It's almost everyone's first thought when they hear about our project (us too). Our research tells us access, organization, and communication are the bottleneck for people using the data.
  • Aggregation is incredibly complex, and involves more than just mapping properties. So much context is needed before data from two departments can be compared.
  • Publishing and vouching for extracted data, and documenting its provenance so it can be audited, is a big project. We only want to undertake this work for data we know will be useful.

  • It's not an immediate priority to automate the running of all the scrapers in our shared repo. The main reason: this is not what our users are asking us for. We plan to archive the sources, and facilitate sharing of scraper code. If we have a stable archive, scraping can be done on-demand.

  • Scraping is hard work, and there are hundreds of thousands of potential data sources out there. For most local applications, data doesn't even need to be processed to be useful—it just needs to be findable. We don't need to scrape things unless it's clearly adding value.

We're still in the iteration and case study phase. If you want to learn something about the police, you can write a scraper to parse, normalize, or get deeper information from our Data Sources.
If you don't have scraping skills, you can use the #data-exchange channel in Discord to find someone who may be able to help.
  1. 1.
    Run a Scraper you wrote, or one from the Scrapers Repo, to get an extraction.
  2. 2.
    Share your extraction and what you learned in Discord.
  3. 3.
    We'll all learn about the criminal justice system from the experience, and brainstorm ways our tools could better facilitate your work.
  4. 4.
    Repeat!
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