Article from The Hook, a Charlottesville, VA, alternative-style weekly paper (a la Ottawa Xpress or Toronto’s Now Magazine).
Seems that Colin Drane, the guy behind SpotCrime, has had some trouble getting the powers-that-be in Charlottesville to play nice with him:
He launched Spotcrime.com and UCrime.com here October 8, shortly after Charlottesville police declined to provide him with the daily incident report it emails to local media. “The logic was, you have ads on your site and we’re not going to share,” relates Drane, who notes that the Hook, which receives the daily report, has ads on its website. He says city police plan to launch their own crime-tracking site on Google Maps.
Weird logic excuse if you ask me – taking Drane at his word, it’s as if the police force would rather spend their own time and resources developing a mashup rather than let SpotCrime do it for them for free.
Anyhow, there’s always the other side of the story:
City spokesman Ric Barrick says that the Charlottesville police daily incident report is available online, and that Drane “can go onto the website like anyone can.” … Barrick cautions that information on the daily incident report is raw, and what someone calls in as a crime may, upon investigation, turn out to be something completely different. “You have to be very careful in comparing this data,” he warns.
“I do feel like we’re more willing and transparent to get that to the public,” says Barrick. “Other jurisdictions don’t put it out at all. We do have a website. Other jurisdictions don’t. To say we don’t share isn’t fair– but we don’t put out every bit of crime data.”
The reliability factor is an issue, I suppose. I’m envisaging somebody calling the police about some crazy noise in the street at 2 a.m. that turns out to be cats fighting in an alley. But if the data is suspect, then why is it released to the local media and issued on Charlottesville’s police force website too? & why do so many police forces in other places release this data? I don’t get it.
In case you’re wondering in what form Charlottesville’s daily incident report is posted online, turns out that it is (what else) a PDF file that is basically a text table listing reported incidents and arrests with street names and relevant dates. No sorting possible. No mapping despite location data being one of the key pieces of info being provided. And being a PDF, it’s painful to parse or scrape. Ugh.
So overall– yes the Charlottesville police do make an effort to provide the data, but it’s not in a very useful format. SpotCrime provides a very useful way to present the kind of data that the Charlottesville police provide. Really they ought to be able to work together.
Aside: other SpotCrime tidbits:
- Free the Data for Crime Mapping – from the SpotCrime blog
- “exclusive interview” (read: email transcript) with SpotCrime Team