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Dec 31

Crime Mapping Doesn’t Pay

Comments (0) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

I swear I don’t go looking for trouble. Seriously. It just happens.

A couple of weeks ago the Ypsi Crime web site was mentioned in the New York Times. Well, technically it wasn’t the New York Times per se, but rather a New York Times blog. It had a nytimes.com address, so it’s still pretty damn cool. It wasn’t even really an article about the site either. It was about some kid who did what I did for Ypsilanti only he did it for Boston. They only mentioned Ypsi Crime maps as an example of other crime mapping sites using the Google Maps technology.

I’ll take it. I dare someone to find the last time the word Ypsilanti showed up in the New York Times. Actually, there have been a lot of Ypsi mentions in the NYT recently ranging from the cheerleaders who caught the man who fled an accident by remembering his license plate in a cheer to tons of articles about GM and the transmission plant in Willow Run. But if I can get all uppity for a moment, those events took place in the Township. Anyway.

For what it’s worth, the Ypsi Crime site was the second of its kind in the world second only to ChicagoCrime.org. Ours was then followed by one from Richmond, VA, Philadelphia, and now the aforementioned Boston. I haven’t quite figured out how to turn this fact into a massive amount of wealth, but I’m working on it.

Laugh if you must, but I feel Ypsi Crime is a public service. With this in mind, I wanted to make the site even better, so I sent a polite note to the Ypsilanti Police Department requesting better data. You see, they do their own little attempt at mapping. It’s not nearly as good as ours, but they have more data than I do. They report two more types of crime than I do (Larceny from Building and Larceny Other). They also report more crime per week than I do for some reason. I get my data from Captain Harshberger in MS Word format whereas the people who do the YPD site pull theirs directly from the YPD database.

I wanted to know their methodology in creating their maps. Our site is done by hand which is a real pain in the ass. I haven’t figured out SQL databases yet, so I’m stuck doing it the Luddite way. I also floated a conspiracy theory past them, but it wasn’t meant to be inflammatory in the least. In the past six months, there have been an average of 25 crimes reported each week by the YPD in five general categories (Assault, Burglary, Larceny from Vehicle, Robbery, and Stolen Vehciles). In a town of 22,000, that number seems very low. I think Ypsi Crime does a great job of pointing out just how safe Ypsi is, but why hasn’t there been one arrest for prostitution? Or soliciting a prostitute? Or a narcotics arrest? Or a DUI? Or one of the dozens of other crimes that can occur? I told them my theory was that the YPD had a catch-all category called OTHER that everything else fell into and they didn’t report this. All I asked was what other crime codes were in the YPD database. I already know there are two Larceny codes that don’t get reported to me or the press each week. You have to admit that request was pretty innocuous.

After almost two weeks, here is the official response:

The Chief has requested that we continue to give you the same statistics that are given to the Ann Arbor News – which is what you receive now.

It was at this point where I went from public service mode to pain-in-the-ass mode. The Chief’s response was basically another way of saying, “We will report the crimes to the public that we feel like reporting.” Seriously. What’s the harm in reporting all of the crimes? I’m not asking for crime details. I’m not asking for access to the crime lab so I can assist with solving them Jim Rockford-style. I just want data.

Preventing crime is all about patterns. It’s all about prevention. Lock your cars, your houses, your garages. Don’t leave your snow blower on your porch overnight. Don’t leave your laptop sitting in the front seat of your car. Don’t leave your first floor windows open when you leave your house. Simple stuff like that. What is the harm in residents knowing there have been a lot of thefts from garages or back porches in the MidTown Neighborhood? What is the harm in residents knowing there has been an increase in prostitution activity up and down North and South Washington? What’s the harm in a little more transparency in goverment?

I was about to pack it in when an elected official suggested I FOIA the information. I thought about doing this earlier, but I don’t want to make extra work for the police. I’m not cracking Watergate here. There’s no need to create extra work for our already overworked PD.

That’s where our elected official earned his salary. He said that if the police aren’t reporting all the crimes, then they are spending extra time removing crime from the report. Asking for ALL the crime would require LESS work than getting the filtered version (ed. note: The capitalization is mine and not that of the elected official—mainly because it looks cool).

Our elected official friend makes a good point, but until I solve the limitations of my programming skills, I’m going to hold off making a big splash. Ypsi Crime only tracks five types of crime (Assault, Burglary, Larceny from Vehicle, Robbery, and Stolen Vehciles). You can sort by week, month, and type of crime, but that’s it. I would like to offer searches by Street, sub-categories, and perhaps time of day. I can’t do that until I can build a database and use SQL stuff. So it is now that I make this plea. Programmers of the world, lend me your code. I need someone to teach me how to make a database like I’m suggesting. I want to input an address and have the database give me the geo-coordinates and plot it on a Google Map. I also want the search capabilities I suggested earlier. I have not money to offer, but I will assist you in creating your own crime map of your city. In theory, you could just steal my code, but I’m making this request to honorable programmers.

It should be noted this may not be easy to pull off. I requested crime statistics from the Ann Arbor Police Department as well as Eastern Michigan University security, but they both blew me off. Please join me in conquering the world—er, this public service venture.

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