Monday, October 6, 2008

The brouhaha over crime statistics

Peter Hermann has an interesting post about a dispute over crime stats and information in the Homeland neighborhood, as well as some interesting comments from his readers.

Buz has often gone to the city police crime mapping site for a lot of useful information regarding crime in the city. He agrees with Peter that we wish they would give us a little more info, like time of day, some comment on method, victim info, suspect info, etc. But it ain't gonna happen.

There are more than 17,000 police departments in the U.S., but only about 100 of them have crime-mapping data available to the public. Why? Well, cost, for one thing: someone has to create the program, keep it running,and update it frequently if not daily. The dirty little secret is that most police departments have little to no money budgeted for that sort of thing (or anything); most police departments in the country are very small--I believe the median size is about 10 officers. The other dirty little secret is: why do it? Very few departments have any real incentive to reveal to citizens the true number and kinds of reports of crime occurring in their midst. That information becomes political fodder for enemies of current political administrations. The police chief who lasts more than three years in the job is doing well, no matter the size of the department. And a jump in crime overall or in a certain place or of a certain type causes all sorts of conniptions (is that a word?) which take deployment and control and direction of the department out of the hands of the chief. The hue and cry goes out!

Take the city's mapping info, for example. They only allow you a look at 2 weeks at a time for the most recent 90-day period. And nothing more recent than about 10-14 days ago. But if you're a computer whiz you can get a look at all 90 days in their database at once. John Galt just did it last week for the area around the Barclay school, showing the crime in and around the Charles Village/Waverly area for the summer. Yikes! There was hardly any white space on the screen!

Your consultant met recently with the fellow who runs a crime-mapping site for cities, which I looked at a number of times, and in fact, signed up for a crime alert of crimes happening within 3 miles of my house. He gets a feed from both the city police stats and the Sun's blotter reports. Between the two, it gives a better picture. Of course, these are only REPORTED crimes; in certain areas the real crime is much higher--because so many people are involved with drugs that they won't call the police, not to mention the why bother factor. As one judge told me at a wedding on Saturday, "you know, the city police are not very well thought of". I said, "your honor, I believe that's an understatement". And certain jurisdictions don't give him any information, except what he can get in press releases, e. g. Anne Arundel county. But at least for now, that site, combined with the city police site help give a good picture of reported crime in an area.

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