December 26, 2013 at 9:23 AM
by David Cruz
Hearings are in the works over the NYPD Crime Map, the newly released digital map pinpointing where crime has occurred. The map was born out of a years-long investigation from the Norwood News, which inspired recently enacted legislation.
The map has received initial criticism from Councilman Fernando Cabrera, the lead sponsor of the bill, along with a police watchdog group for withholding critical information that was promised within the law, officially named Intro. 984-A. “It’s a good beginning, but there are some missing components,” said Cabrera, chair of the Technology Committee.
One of the more glaring snubs was the lack of each precinct’s sector map—specific boundaries carved out that determines where to install more officers. Disclosing sector maps became the seminal hallmark to the bill, passed by the City Council in April.
The committee plans to summon the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), the agency tasked to create and maintain the map from the time Mayor Bloomberg signed the bill into law. Hearings are expected in February instead of January to give freshly-elected councilmembers time to settle in while giving the newest council speaker (elections are the first week of January) time to choose who will chair certain committees. Should a new Technology Committee chair be chosen, that member will honor Cabrera’s request for a hearing, said Cabrera.
Cabrera ensured he will press DoITT over why a “substandard” map with plenty of design flaws was released with virtually no input from councilmembers. The maps were quietly released on Sunday, Dec. 8, though no formal news conference was arranged.
“…[T]his map helps enhance New Yorkers’ and researchers’ understanding of where felony and violent crime persists,” said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in a statement.
The latest tool is a departure from the NYPD’s CrimeStat sheets, which aggregates the seven major crimes that took place in a given week, month or year.
The Norwood News inspired the Crime Mapping Bill after a series of articles detailed the difficulty in obtaining sector map data from the NYPD. In one instance, information on sector maps from the 52nd Precinct–overlapping with the News’ catchment area–was only possible through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. It took a year for the request to be honored.
The crime map certainly deviates somewhat from the language of the law. The map, searchable by address, area code and precinct, offers the user an entire look of Bronx crime. Once an address is typed in, a series of blue dots, that range in number depending on the frequency of crimes committed in an area, are sprinkled about, indicating where crime has occurred.
And once a dot is clicked on, a drop-down window opens showing the number of crimes that took place. A second link dubbed “Show Details” offers the type of crime committed, yet no date, time or other particulars of a crime are referenced, offering little in the way of transparency and presenting more questions than answers, as Cabrera sees it.
“We don’t know if these crimes are committed one day after each other. Was it at the beginning of the month? We don’t have that vital information,” said Cabrera.
And while grand larcenies, rape and murder are visible on the map, serious misdemeanor and shooting incidents are absent, presenting an incomplete crime assessment.
Users will also find major gaps from the time a crime was committed to when it’s posted on the map. As of press time, the map has only logged crime that occurred on Oct. 31 or earlier, violating a portion of the law that states crimes must be posted one month after the infraction was filed.
The issue is even more problematic for Colin Drane, the founder of SpotCrime, the largest crime data collection map on the Internet, which rolls already-established crime maps from major cities into one. After reviewing the map, Drane noticed each crime was scrubbed of its incident report number, a unique reference number paired with each report. Without an incident report number, police officers would have little to go by when tracking down information on a specific incident.
“Crime map should be an afterthought to data transparency,” said Drane.
Lack of Transparency
With a skeletal crime map, its lack of transparency can only fuel critics’ perception of an NYPD that acts more as a shadow organization.
Addressing the problem poses a test for returning NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who instituted a less hostile relationship with the press and community when he was top cop in the early 2000s. Bratton, due to start Jan. 1, is considered a major foil to Kelly, known for his distant relationship to the press. Whether Bratton honors the law is still unclear.
While the NYPD offered no official comment, one police source who wished to remain anonymous praised the map for offering users a better glimpse at crime, though cautioned over revealing too much to the public since initial information isn’t always correct. “There’s a fine line,” said the source. “You don’t want to put too much information because it will impede the investigation.”
It could perhaps be an explanation Cabrera will receive once hearings begin.