Durable helped the Legal Defense Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Institute (TMI) completely reimagine the potential of a key digital offering, the National Police Funding Database.
Many police departments across the United States receive federal funding in the form of grants and military equipment transfers. Crucially, in doing so they must comply with civil rights laws. When citizens are knowledgeable about the federal funding their police departments receive, they can engage with their community and advocate for transparency and accountability in policing.
TMI first launched the National Police Funding Database in 2019, providing federal grant funding information for a select number of cities and counties. Over time, TMI sought to expand the number of locations represented in the database as well as incorporate information about military equipment received by local law enforcement agencies.
When TMI approached Durable about enhancing the site, we identified a number of additional opportunities to improve the user experience and significantly reduce the effort required to manage the site—the initial version of the site was not directly editable by TMI. As we continued to collaborate with TMI, it became clear that rebuilding the site was the best path forward.
Elevating the user experience
The original site was primarily organized by data type, which made it difficult for users to see all information relevant to their location. We took a location-centric approach, creating shareable dashboards that consolidate information about demographics, grant funding, military equipment, misconduct settlements, and consent decrees associated with a locale.
Location-specific dashboards allow in-depth exploration and comparison.
Durable’s research also revealed opportunities to incorporate new data:
- Including sub-grants via the USASpending API provides a more complete picture of the total funding received by a police department.
- Adding police employment data from the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer API allows visitors to see how large their local police department is, and how it compares to national averages.
- Using Census data, we present links on each location dashboard to other locations with similarly-sized populations, encouraging comparison and discovery.
With so many data sources being aggregated, it was important to present users with information about the sources and recency of the data displayed. Detailed explanations and links to original sources are made available to site visitors via pop-ups in each section of the dashboard.
Other enhancements include predictive search, which helps users quickly navigate between hundreds of locations. The site was designed and built to meet WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standards, and is fully responsive and mobile-friendly.
Predictive search helps users quickly find their desired location.
Streamlining content management
With TMI’s ambition to continually add new locations and sources of grant funding to the database, it was no longer tenable for them to rely on an outside partner to implement site updates. With the new site built on top of the Umbraco content management system, adding and updating content can be done by TMI in minutes. We created a flexible kit of components so editors can create a huge range of page designs.
The most time-consuming aspect of managing the site’s content, however, is the manual review of grants pulled in from the USASpending API. Since the API doesn’t provide a way to filter by police departments, this process could not be fully automated. We extensively tested and fine-tuned the search query used to strike the right balance between not missing out on possible funding sources, but not being so broad as to introduce excessive numbers of unrelated grants for TMI review. We also provided editors with the flexibility to modify the default query if needed for a specific location, and for those modifications to be reflected in the data explainer pop-up.
To help editors approve or reject grants for inclusion on the site, we created a content app within Umbraco. It allows grants to be reviewed within the context of a specific city, county or state, which is essential when a new location is added to the site. Upon login an aggregated view is also presented to content editors listing all locations where new grants have been awarded and are awaiting review. Using these tools, LDF was immediately able to increase the number of police departments presented on the website by over 65%.
By working in close collaboration, TMI and Durable created a product that was beyond all expectations.
The expanded database is now a powerful tool for researchers, activists, and others seeking to promote equity and accountability. Early evidence suggests greatly increased engagement with the site. In the first month after re-launch (compared to the same period the previous year):
- The bounce rate dropped 26%
- Average session duration increased by 96%
- Pages per session increased 87%