What Can We Learn From the Chicago Police Department’s API Shutdown?

The Chicago Reporter has claimed that the Chicago Police Department has shut down an API that had been used to provide access to arrest records in the city. The publication is contending that the removal of access to the API is in direct retaliation to an article they published that was critical of statements made by the CPD that were allegedly inconsistent with the data freely accessible via the API.

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, The Chicago Reporter had been using the Chicago Police Department’s arrests API “to analyze police tactics during local mass protests.” The publication then noticed that the figures being stated by police department officials didn’t line up faithfully with the source data. The Chicago Reporter claims that within a day of it publishing a report outline these discrepancies, the API was shut down. Asraa Mustufa and David Eads of The Chicago Reporter view this as a sort of cover-up, noting the value of the API to transparency and accountability:

“But it’s now substantially more difficult to check CPD’s claims and details about arrests. That’s because the department recently shut down its arrest API used by journalists and researchers.”

There is a lot that could be said about what this means for society at large, but let’s focus on the API perspective. First, it is amazing to see that APIs are being used to provide access to real-life data that impacts individuals in a very real, powerful way. Transparency in policing, healthcare data interoperability, and real-time data accessibility for medical research are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. After all, it has only been a short 15 years since Adrian Holovaty first introduced chicagocrime.org to the world. This site was one of the first Google Maps API mashups (a term itself that seems antiquated) and served as the first online access point for CPD crime data. The site would go on to win journalism awards and be hailed by the New York Times as one of the great ideas of 2005. Flash forward to 2020 and it is now commonplace for newsrooms to access this sort of data via API. 

This proliferation of APIs leads to another point. Police departments, hospitals, universities, and even small businesses are now API providers. As this technology has expanded into every facet of our lives more and more people find themselves responsible for resources that they are ill-equipped to manage. I can only imagine that is how you get to a place where police department representatives would quote numbers out of alignment with their own datasets. To me, it shows an unawareness of the data that is being exposed and how end-users are leveraging it. A consideration that seems obvious to all of us that work in the API Economy is often completely overlooked by many decision-makers in business.

With the understanding that APIs are no longer relegated to the tech sector comes the responsibility for all parties involved in business management to educate themselves on the role that APIs play in their business and how customers are leveraging this data. Now it is time for a shameless plug, ProgrammableWeb provides a great Resource for anyone hoping to learn more about APIs and API strategies. Make sure to check out our API University for resources dedicated to API education.   

Be sure to read the next API Strategy article: APIs Can Offer a Frictionless Customer Experience Amid Crisis