Police Files — NorCal Police Accountability

Putting the Pieces Together

We need a centralized hub for information on law enforcement violence and corruption across Northern California, but no such resource currently exists. With your help, we can have a working version in a matter of months.

This campaign is to raise money for building a public-facing police accountability database. The working title for the project is straightforward: Police Files. Not only will it be built to include information on police misconduct from the streets to the jails, but to document the role others such as district attorneys play in fostering the current environment of police impunity.

The Police Files database will be a valuable tool for journalists, civil rights attorneys, police accountability organizations, activists, and the general public. Solid models already exist which cover distinct aspects of police accountability in a few areas across the country, as well as national ones on police killings, but there's nothing as comprehensive as what's proposed here.

Please, donate now! Donations of every size are appreciated and help push the project toward realization. Larger contributions will create a sense of confidence that the current goal will be met or exceeded and labor time can be locked in sooner rather than later.

Share this page widely and tell a friend.

Let's go big and make this happen! It's about time.

Follow the project on social media:


Coalition for Police Accountability 
Justice Teams Network 
Anti Police-Terror Project 
Dan Siegel, Oakland civil rights attorney
— San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay)

Why This Project Is Unique and Valuable

Solid database and journalistic projects which are wholly dedicated to identifying police officers and publicizing lawsuits and misconduct records already exist in some areas across the country, as well as national ones tracking police killings. Since SB 1421 went into effect this year in California — requiring law enforcement agencies to divulge information on discharge of a firearms, use of force resulting in death or great bodily injury, and sustained findings of sexual assault and dishonesty — the number of journalistic exposés has greatly increased. But there's no centralized permanent record documenting the misconduct of individual officers and departments for Northern California. (See "Similar Projects" list below.)

Anticipated Tasks

• Network and consult with individuals and groups already doing ground-level work on police issues, civil rights organizations, attorneys holding police to account, and others. Survey their thoughts on how this project can be most beneficial for them. Create an open feedback loop.
• Identify sources of and apply for funding to expand the project both in terms of length of time and paid support staff.
• Develop processes to best enable paid researchers, journalists, web developers, visual designers, and others to contribute.

Information Architecture:
• Synthesize feedback gathered, along with examinations of data structures from similar projects, into the most efficient and useful data structure possible, for inputing, searching, and displaying data.

Database and Website Development:
• Construct actual database.
• Build out public website utilizing database.

Research and Data Entry:
• Determine sources of related information and create a plan of action for acquiring it.
• Begin to populate database and website.

Limiting the Scope for This "Start Up" Project

It would be great to be able to promise you that such a comprehensive database could be constructed and filled up with useful and relevant data for, say, the entire state of California in a short period of time, but it can't. The anticipated timeline for the project funded here is just four months. I chose to restrict the fundraising request to a timeframe which should cover initial construction of the database, as well as allow for time to formulate plans to extend the life of the project. Populating it with actual data is a whole 'nother matter, even across the more limited geography of Northern California. Incorporating data sets from similar projects gracious enough to share their data publicly is entirely feasible. Acquiring large amounts of new data such as civil suits filed in cities across the northern half of the state is not. Some data may only be acquired after filing lawsuits against stubborn agencies. Simply put, it can't happen overnight and will require the work of more than one person. By necessity, low hanging fruit in large cities will be among the first targets for data collection (Oakland, San Francisco, San José, Vallejo, Sacramento, etc) and the project will spread out from there. The guiding principle is to create a solid working iteration of the database as a demonstration project, a proof of concept, in order to attract further funding via grants and other sources, so that the data collection can continue and expand over time.

Timeframe and Budget

If this fundraising campaign meets the initial goal, I will commit to working on the project for at least four full months. The initial budget may stretch even longer. (Time spent on the project has already begun in consultations with police accountability stakeholders and this fundraising campaign itself.) The idea is to establish a new informational resource that can live and grow forever, so a sizable portion of time will be spent laying a foundation for the project to continue indefinitely.

If this fundraiser exceeds the initial ask, I will not take any additional funds for myself during the first four months. Funds will go toward paying others to contribute even sooner than currently anticipated, to build it bigger and better even faster. Additionally, exceeding the goal will provide more funds for acquisition of data and to cover other operational expenses as well. Doubling or tripling the initial request will move this project forward with greater financial security, beyond four months and with more hands on deck.

If the fundraiser fails to meet the initial goal, I will have to reevaluate my capacity. If it's enough to fund two months worth of time, that may be enough for a solid start, but it certainly won't cover the launch of a fully functional database and website. Further funding would be required to carry the project into the future. Odds are that an ambitious project like this is not going to be realized any time soon as a part-time volunteer project, by myself or anyone else.

Why I'm Right for the Job

I have both covered police abuses and developed websites for a long time. It's a good fit for me. And whenever I'm unable to handle something myself, I'm good at figuring out how to find the answers.

I have been documenting social justice movements for over 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes beyond. I've covered countless events. A recurring, and often primary, topic of coverage has been the never-ending incidents of police violence, corruption, and cover-ups. In early 2009, as the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement exploded on the scene in Oakland, I helped to create the most comprehensive archive of related coverage anywhere. While many other independent journalists contributed articles and multimedia files to Indybay, I published over 250 unique stories and organized coverage for events I could not document myself, such as the pretrial and trial of Johannes Mehserle in Oakland and Los Angeles. indybay.org/oscargrant 

In the course of reporting on street protests, I have been physically harmed and arrested on false charges by police. Once, they even tried to steal my photographs — and they were able to get away with it, until I partnered with civil rights attorneys and challenged their illegal search warrant. I was successful in quashing the warrant and recovering my photos. In all, I have sued three different police departments for violating my rights as a journalist, in the hopes of standing up not only for myself but for other independent reporters who find themselves in similar straits. I have spent years of my life diligently fighting these cases. My record is two wins though settlements — one of which included the department adopting new media-related policies and training for officers, the other was tied to new crowd control policies — and I lost one case in a jury trial. While I have no formal legal training, I have gone through this process repeatedly and fancy myself something of a jailhouse lawyer, so to speak.

But all of that journalistic and civil rights work was largely volunteer. While I have sold an occasional story or media file, I have received zero compensation for the untold thousands of hours I have poured into my work as a reporter and editorial collective member with Indybay since 2004. My day job since the mid-1990s, how I earn a living, has been building websites, which often involves mapping out efficient structures for presenting data online, skills I hope to put to good use building the Police Files database.

What Your Generous Contributions Are Funding

Overhead will be minimal. No office space or other large expenses are expected. Expenditures such as web hosting and early data acquisition will be absorbed into the budget here. This fundraising campaign, if successful, primarily buys me at least four months worth of time to dedicate myself to creating Police Files. While the amount requested is around half of what I earn as a professional web developer, it is enough for me to get by and not have to worry about picking up any contracts or other paid work. I can dedicate myself full-time to this project. Of course, I will continue my volunteer work with Indybay, as I always have on top of whatever my employment situation might be. But I won't have to worry about looking for paid work for at least four months.

I intend to respect the trust you place in me by working hard to make this this thing happen. I promise to keep you informed of progress and developments over time.

The Gratitude Every Contributions Earns

Not only will I be eternally grateful for your kindness and belief in this project, but so will the good people and organizations doing the day-to-day groundwork fighting for police accountability who will come to rely on this new resource (see the growing list of endorsers above). No less importantly, your contributions to this project will be a benefit to those who most often find themselves on the receiving end of police abuses and and may be unable to contribute financially.

The more facts and patterns that are brought to light, the harder it becomes for law enforcement to act with impunity.

Thank you for helping to bring this project to fruition.

Similar Projects Doing Impressive Work


Fatal Encounters 

Mapping Police Violence 

Lawsuits and Misconduct:

Oakland Police Beat 
(defunct, see archive)

NYC Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Data 

Citizens Police Data Project  (Invisible Institute, Chicago)

Police Use of Force: 

The Force Report  (New Jersey)

Police officer identification, investigations, and more:

Open Oversight (Lucy Parsons Labs)

Eyewitness video and open-source data accessibility/storytelling:

Profiling the Police (Witness)

Evaluating the police (California):

Police Scorecard  (Campaign Zero)


The Appeal 

USA Today: Decertified Officers (30,000+ in 44 states)
[in partnership with Invisible Institute]

Buzzfeed: New York Police Misconduct Cases 

Washington Post: Fatal Force (2018) 

The Guardian: The Counted — People Killed by Police in the U.S.


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David Marshall 
Oakland, CA
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