New Crime Site Data Needs More Detail

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The crime map allows users to see locations associated with any index felony.

Photo by: DoITT

The crime map allows users to see locations associated with any index felony.

A new interactive city website provides a variety of crime stats never before available online. But it doesn’t include data that activists and experts hoped would turn up under a law pushed by Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera.

When you plug in an address, precinct or zip code at the top of the NYC Crime Map site , created the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), circles appear at spots where there have been crimes within the time period you specify. The circles indicate the general location of so-called index felonies: murder, rape, felony assault, burglary, robbery, grand larceny and grand larceny of an automobile.

Users can select one of several time periods: They can view crimes during any month in 2012 or 2013 up to last November, see offenses for the entire 2012 calendar year or look at incidents during the January to November period in 2012 or 2013.

But it is weekly crime data, like the one-page NYPD Compstat reports focusing on precinct-wide stats, that lawmakers and advocates would prefer.

And, even more importantly for some critics, the map doesn’t make it easy to compare crime data among neighborhoods within a precinct. While breakdowns by precinct are available on the map, there is no mention of NYPD sectors—smaller sections within precincts, which are given letter codes—on DoITT’s new tool. And the difficulty the public has in obtaining sector-level crime stats is what prompted the push for the online tool in the first place. Bronx precincts, the borders of which are coterminous with community districts, include eight to 18 sectors.

Since “sectors exist, that would be helpful to community members,” says Prof. John Eterno, a Molloy College criminal justice professor and former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Mapping Support Unit until early in the Bloomberg administration.

Greg Faulkner, Cabrera’s chief of staff, says his office has a similar concern about the map. “It doesn’t have enough details and our vision of it was there was going to be a lot more,” he says. “We need to hear whether there were specific security concerns about why they were left out.” He added that the website was not shared with Council members before it was fully implemented. Had it been, Faulkner says, the city“would have been able to determine whether their implementation matched the Council’s intent.”

The law that mandated the creation of the map does not mention sector statistics. When his legislation was first drafted, Cabrera had high hopes that sector stats would be included. “That wasn’t moving because [then-Speaker Christine] Quinn wasn’t moving it,” Faulkner says. “There was a negotiation. I think that we tried to get as much as we could in terms of how the legislative process works.”

Though it doesn’t indicate sectors, the DoITT site is the city’s first web-based public information tool showing where crime has taken place. It allows the user to look at all index crimes and at specific types of crime. If you search by precinct, the map does display precinct boundaries. But if you search by address or ZIP code, there is no indication of what precinct a circle is in.

“It’s a good start but it’s not as transparent as we hope the Police Department would be,” Eterno said.

The online tool allows users to generate charts comparing crime in their precinct to other precincts, to the borough and to the city.

But advocates think neighborhood data would help residents make sure precincts focus on specific crimes in specific areas.

A 2010 document acquired through a FOIL by the Norwood News (where this reporter was editor) a year following its request, indicates there were 156 grand larcenies and 79 robberies in Sector J of the 45th Precinct, much more than any other sector. That’s just one fact drawn from a page including hundreds of statistics. If such documents still exist at the NYPD, as is widely assumed, advocates want to see it posted on the new DoITT crime stat site.

“We still don’t know if Sector George is the hottest sector,” says Monsignor John Jenik, pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Church in the 52nd Precinct, referring to that precinct’s Sector G. He’s been organizing around crime in his area for a couple of decades.

The critique of the site goes beyond the lack of sector comparisons. Eterno also wants it to include non-indexed felonies such endangering the welfare of a child. “It should be readily available to people so that they too can understand and debate what needs to be done in a certain area,” Eterno says.

There is much hope that more specific information will become available on DoITT’s site. When Police Commissioner Bill Bratton held the same job briefly under Mayor Giuliani, there wasn’t any crime data on the web. But cops could share data the old-fashioned way. “I was freely allowed to talk to the press on any issue that I thought was important,” Eterno says. “No one under Bratton was told you can’t speak to the press.”

After Giuliani collided with Bratton and pushed him out, press contract with police officials was restricted, and few New Yorkers other than cops had access to sector-level crime stat data. That persisted through the end of his administration and into the Bloomberg years, according to Eterno.

But Bratton is back, and Cabrera will meet with him relatively soon, Faulkner says.

“There’s a new administration and they may say, ‘We’re very receptive to that. We’re moving forward,’ Faulkner said referring to the sector data. “That could really strengthen [this law] and we’re going to move forward to make those things happen.”

In the meantime “monthly data is usually available with 30 days from the end of the month,” according to DoITT.