City Council Prods NYPD to Map Crime Data … Except Traffic Crime

Last week, the City Council passed a bill that should revolutionize the way New Yorkers access NYPD crime data. For the first time, crime stats will be mapped, and will be searchable by precinct, area code, and street address. The data will be filed with the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which will update the map each month.

NYPD transportation chief James Tuller thinks the public lacks the capacity to comprehend traffic crash data.

“The bill will enable elected officials, community organizations, and the general public to localize current high crime areas and use resources more strategically and efficiently,” said sponsor Fernando Cabrera, council member from the Bronx.

The interactive crime map will offer the same tools that City Council members and street safety advocates were aiming for with the Saving Lives Through Better Information Act. But two years after that bill passed the council, NYPD is still releasing traffic crash data as a series of PDF files. Meanwhile, council members seem to have stopped pushing the department to publish crash data in a format that would readily enable advocates and the public to target dangerous locations for improved engineering and enforcement.

Crime data maps are nothing new. As the New York World points out, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities have maps like the one ordered by the council. But NYPD is notoriously secretive, and guards traffic crash data even more closely than other violent crime data. While Cabrera says NYPD took no official position on the mapping bill, which was prompted by difficulties encountered by the Norwood News in obtaining Bronx precinct stats, the department fought the council tooth and nail to keep traffic crash data under wraps.

“This information is only valuable to those with the training, knowledge and experience to understand its context and interpret it correctly,” said NYPD Chief of Transportation James Tuller at a council hearing in 2010. “That is the role of the police commander.”

Though the council forced NYPD to release crash data, the department did its best to circumvent the law by publishing it in a way that renders it useless to all but the most tenacious advocates and citizens. Six months from now, when the crime data map is expected to go live, anyone with Internet access will be able to get an instant picture of where assaults and burglaries are happening in their neighborhood — by month, year, and year-to-date. That same resident would have to devote hours to get an in-depth look at where people were injured and killed by motorists on the streets where they walk or bike every day.

The Norwood News reports that making the crime data map will only entail a one-time expense:

DoITT officials say it would take about six months to get the website and map up and running and wouldn’t require much extra work on their end or from the NYPD, which is often the agency’s excuse for not being more forthcoming with information.

The NYPD compiles this information and inputs into a software program already.

This is all the more reason for the council to demand that crash data be given the same treatment.

At a February 2012 council hearing on traffic safety and NYPD crash investigation protocols, Jessica Lappin confronted NYPD brass on the half-hearted compliance with the Saving Lives Through Better Information bill, which she sponsored. When NYPD counsel Susan Petito said the department believes data released on a spreadsheet could be manipulated “to make a point of some sort,” an incredulous Lappin assured officials that the public wants to analyze the data to improve safety, not use it for “evil.”

This was the last we heard from the council on the subject until January. At a presser convened by Lappin and council transportation chair James Vacca to scold DOT for being late with a report on dangerous intersections, Streetsblog asked about NYPD crash data dumps. “We don’t like the way they’re complying, but at least they’re putting information up,” Lappin said. “They are complying with the letter of the law. We just don’t think they’re complying with the spirit of the law.”

It seems now that if they truly want NYPD to release traffic crash data in a useful format, council members can make it happen. Will they?

  • Concerned Citizen

    I’m waiting for the part where someone jumps out and says “just kidding! This is the 21st century of course we’ll share the stats!” Alas, don’t think that’s actually going to happen.

    I work with data for a living, and I’m reasonably certain that anything machine-readable could be made into a spreadsheet with some help from a reasonably capable programmer and a Perl script. I’m not saying that person per se, but show us what you got NYPD.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Here we go again with the same strange double standard – the NYPD wants to release “real” crime data for mapping, but doesn’t want to share information on vehicular violence. Why? My theory – when we have good information about the amount of carnage in our streets, the reduction in violent crime in general seems less impressive.

  • Anonymous

    This is probably a good explanation. Otherwise this doesn’t really seem to make any sense to me. Vehicular homicide probably dwarfs all other kinds.

  • Guest

    They didn’t really want to release this either, but didn’t feel they were in a position to fight it that hard.

    I think there is also a factor that they feel like the general public just doesn’t care as much about “accidents” as it does about shootings.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a hunch. A lot of the crime data will show crimes by small-time criminals, e.g. burglars, who happen to be black or brown. And the NYPD thrives on the public perception (and its own perception) that the bad guys are black and brown.

    But crash data will show lots of white people, including white from the comfortable suburbs, killing lots of black and brown people in the City. Of course, the NYPD wouldn’t want that kind of info in public hands.

  • Bolwerk

    If you count all the ways you can be brutalized or assaulted as “crime,” New York looks a whole lot less safe. Stop-‘n-frisks should be regarded as crimes too, except it’s the pig state that perpetrates them.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Advocates Urge Lander to Upgrade NYPD Crash Data Bill

|
A bill that would have pushed Ray Kelly’s police department one step closer to opening up crash data has been reintroduced by Council Member Brad Lander. But with new leadership, NYPD is dropping hints that it will release better public data soon. Advocates say Lander’s bill could use some upgrades to help the public get […]

NYPD Should Open Data on All Traffic Summonses, Not Just on Truck Routes

|
Legislation introduced by City Council members this week would require NYPD to publish data on crashes and summonses along NYC truck routes. The bill is intended to improve safety on truck routes, but a better approach would be to have NYPD post all traffic summons data. Intro 919, introduced by council members Margaret Chin, Jimmy Van Bramer, and transportation chair Ydanis […]

NYPD: Public Too Stupid to Understand a Citywide Crash Map

|
This morning’s City Council transportation committee hearing covered a number of bills, including one that would require NYPD to release data to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications for a public map of crash locations and traffic fatalities, to be updated monthly. NYPD testified in opposition to the bill, claiming that it was already […]

Bloomberg Opens Up More Crime Data, So Why Not Traffic Safety Info Too?

|
Bloomberg administration officials have now twice appeared in front of the City Council to oppose legislation requiring that the city post up-to-date information about traffic crashes and summonses online. In April, the NYPD testified that such a reporting requirement would be a burden on the department and that the public couldn’t interpret that kind of […]