Data Journalism Project Launches, Focuses on Impact of Police Vehicle Accidents in NY

Photo illustration of a crash involving a police car
Photo illustration by Peter Pietrangelo/USA TODAY Network

Police vehicle accidents and the impact such crashes have had on communities across New York State are the focus of a new data journalism project involving Newhouse School students working in partnership with reporters from the USA Today Network and Central Current.

The first two stories from the “Driving Force” investigative series were published last week on The NewsHouse, the result of exhaustive reporting that began in June 2023. The initial stories looked at Syracuse police crashes and emergency driver training for officers in New York State, with more articles set to be published over the next few months.

At Newhouse, the project was led by Jodi Upton, Knight Chair in Data and Explanatory Journalism, and Nausheen Husain, assistant professor of magazine, news and digital journalism. Students in three of Upton’s data journalism classes read hundreds of pages of documents, pulling out details such as the type of conduct, date, officer involved and the resulting discipline in a process called “data tagging.” 

The Driving Force reporting team meets at the Newhouse School in September 2023. (Photo by William Ramsey/USA Today Network)

The exercise helped the students to grasp the importance of how government PDFs can be converted into data for analysis, Upton and Husain said. The team went through the records, court papers and other state and police documents to locate individuals who were injured or killed in police vehicle accidents.

Overall, the reporting collaboration now includes 35,000 records from 115 departments ranging from those in large urban areas to village departments with only a handful of officers.

Upton and Husain said the partnership is building a public-facing police vehicle crash database. It plans to hold workshops to help the public and other journalists inspect local police department documents and understand the impact police vehicle crashes have had on communities. 

The investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project. That project is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University-Medill.