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Editorial

Useful data, from L.A. County? There must be some mistake

L.A. County ought to figure out what the public wants most to see on its open data site, and respond quickly

There must be some mistake. It turns out that there is a Los Angeles County open data site that has actual information on it. Useful information, like where the most violent crimes have been reported and which restaurants have had health violations. Informative information, like county employee salaries. Information that had existed on scattered departmental sites but had been virtually unfindable without excessive searching and a little luck. Information that had never before been on county sites.

This from Los Angeles County government, with its indifference to transparency and its entrenched bureaucratic culture of “no”? Again, it must be a mistake.

Except that it's not. The county's open data site went public Thursday, and although a lot of work remains, it's a good start.

To make the site even better, its architects have to press more departments to keep putting up more information, regardless of what it is, subject, of course, to the privacy rights of patients and other members of the public whose personal information resides in county databanks. The point of open data is that they be open — and available for the public to pick and choose what it wants to see, and what, perhaps, it wants to turn into a useful and marketable app.

At the same time, though, the county ought to figure out what the public wants most to see, and respond quickly. So, for example, the sheriff should make it a priority to post data about arrests, shootings and in-custody deaths and injuries, noting race and other currently pertinent information. A January report by Inspector General Max Huntsman showed the Sheriff's Department to be among the worst in the nation at providing such information to the public.

We'd also like to see data that track, or allow the public to track, the county's performance, and perhaps to compare it with other governments'. For example, did the county move more homeless people from the streets to permanent housing this year than last? More or fewer than the city of L.A.?

The sheriff's crime heat map is great, but how about melding it with similar maps for adjacent police departments, giving the public easy access to regional data regardless of government jurisdiction? What about linking reports and motions in the Board of Supervisors' files to relevant information on the open data site, and vice-versa? Once this whole information-sharing idea takes hold, it may be hard to stop — and that's as it should be.

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