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The UCLA Library DataSquad is a team of undergraduate students who support data-related projects at UCLA. As part of the UCLA Library Data Science Center, the DataSquad works with students who need help with their data projects and highlights the work of researchers using data at UCLA.

Some projects require multiple sets of eyes and a couple pairs of hands to get the job done.

That was the case when Terrence Keel, Ph.D., brought his project to the DataSquad from the UCLA Biocritical Studies Lab(opens in a new tab). Julia Wood, a student data science consultant on the DataSquad, took the lead on the consultation, which analyzed numerous data sources to quantify civilian deaths at the hands of police in the United States. The project looked at data across different times and spaces to quantify and visualize these fatal encounters.

Ethan Allavarpu joined the project’s efforts shortly after being hired as the DataSquad’s second student data science consultant. The research tasks touched on many ends of the data science process, from merging four different datasets to the end goal of visualizing data across the country.

Map of fatal police encounters in LA and graph showing deaths by race and zip code.

It was off to the races once the ball kept rolling. Julia handled tasks including data cleaning and data visualization. Specifically, Julia was responsible for creating Tableau dashboards that allowed researchers to visualize fatal encounters with police by weapon and location. Not only did she recreate Tableau-versions of graphs that Keel had worked on earlier, but she was tasked with creating Los Angeles-specific dashboards as well.

The plethora of plots Julia created can be viewed on her public Tableau account(opens in a new tab).

Ethan joined the project while Julia was readying for graduation in winter 2021. One of the biggest challenges was identifying discrepancies between two datasets and highlighting names that were previously hidden in the datasets. Dr. Keel’s team called these individuals “the hidden.”

Ethan’s data cleansing and Julia’s data visualization skills allowed the team to uncover “the hidden” and visualize their fatal encounters with police across the country(opens in a new tab).

Data Squad Police 2
Map showing fatal police encounters across the country.

Ethan also applied statistical methods to the data on top of helping clean the data. He ran chi-square tests to determine which states/localities had a statistically different number of previously unreported deaths. Using these findings, researchers hoped to be able to identify outlier locations — those with significantly more/less deaths compared to other areas — to give researchers a sense of which places might need to be investigated further.

Through their joint efforts, Ethan and Julia gave the researchers at the Biocritical Studies Lab a better understanding of the problem numerically and visually. Julia spoke to the heightened stakes that come with consulting a client versus doing a course-related project in the classroom.

“In class, the end goal is presenting something at the end of the quarter,” Julia said. “Working with a client, you really have to take the right steps to make sure you don’t mess up. We’re responsible for making sure the work we produce is reputable, reproducible, and ready to be published.”

Overall, she believes the DataSquad has delivered on that task.