Wandering Eye: Government's big data problem, how cops handle mental illness, and more

Governing Magazine did an overdue survey of local and state governments' use of data, focusing on the quality of that data. They found it bad. As "big data" takes over the world, the problem of bad data—"dirty" data with keystroke errors, missing fields, and "cooked" data because the jobs of the people taking the data depend on the data looking a certain way—has been the major underreported story. So Governing polled auditors and data managers in 46 states. Seventy percent of them "said bad data is a problem 'frequently' or 'often.'" The data entry errors tend to cost money (rather than saving money or—if errors were random—being neutral), the survey found. "[In] just one California audit of sick leave, released last year, data entry errors were found to have cost the state $6 million." ("We found circumstances where instead of eight hours, it was 80 and in one case, 800," says Elaine Howle, the California state auditor. "And the system didn't have controls to say that's impossible.") Agencies that were required to report to the feds tended to have the cleanest data. "Officials singled out human services agencies, economic development, and public safety and corrections as the parts of state government with the biggest data quality problems." The full report is linked at the magazine's website. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

The Guardian is still running The Counted, a project accounting for all the people killed by police in the U.S. (it's up to 544), and now The Washington Post is taking a deeper look at 123 of those, people who had some kind of mental illness. The Post's investigation found that: "More often, the police officers were called by relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically, reports show. More than 50 people were explicitly suicidal." Not surprisingly, many "[c]riminal justice experts say police are often ill-equipped to respond to such individuals — and that the encounters too often end in needless violence." It's an interesting investigation into just one of the ways police are using excessive force. (Brandon Weigel)

 

Taking down the Confederate flag, and all the racist history that it symbolizes, is one important step. But we should remember that countless other monuments and flags in the U.S. are also problematic symbols of oppression and white supremacy. Or, as Ben Valentine says in his essay for Hyperallergic, "there's bad blood in most of our public monuments and flags." The headline ("How Artists Can Help Us Conceive of New Flags and Monuments for the US") is slightly misleading, and the whole piece gently massages these ideas, that there are many artists who could potentially drum up better monuments and flags, rather than aggressively advocating for it. He concludes by giving an example of the British sculptor Antony Gormley's 'One & Other' in which 2,400 people take turns standing on a plinth in Trafalgar Square over the course of 100 days—an "anti-monument" because it moves and changes daily, it's composed of actual people, and it's less hierarchical than one symbol, image, or statue would be. "Maybe it means it will take a longer time than we would hope," Valentine says, "and that we need to have intensely honest and likely difficult conversations about these flags, one by one." Sure, we do, but will we? (Rebekah Kirkman)

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