[ View the story "NYPD alters access to local crime data" on Storify] NYPD alters access to local crime data NYPD orders all local precincts to stop giving out crime information, debuts interactive crime map. What do the dual moves mean for NYPD transparency?
AJAMStream· Mon, Dec 09 2013 17:46:53 The end of neighborhood crime blotters?
The NYPD's restriction of media access to local crime information comes in response to a
by journalists for the NYPD to make its local crime reports available and uniform across all precincts. Prior to the change, the majority of precincts allowed journalists access to forms detailing crimes and complaints. Rather than extend access to include all precincts, the NYPD issued a directive to precinct commanders that
, “Any requests by media to view complaint reports be referred to the office of the Deputy Commissioner For Public Information.”
The policy change was first discovered by
, a blog that publishes a weekly crime blotter for Brooklyn's Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods. The Nabe described its process for publishing its crime blotter, which will be discontinued under the new rules:
Every Wednesday morning, a reporter from The Nabe visits the 88th Precinct and is handed forms outlining the previous week’s felony crime reports, which includes information on all murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary or theft of property in the precinct. The reporter copies down the information, asks the officers lingering questions from the reports and writes up the crime blotter post. This will no longer be allowed.thenabe.me
The move by the NYPD has left many residents and local reporters wondering how they will be able to access local crime information with the same level of detail and timeliness. The centralization of local crime information represents a major
in the role the DCPI, which generally only disseminates information about high-profile crimes of citywide interest. In the past, it has not been a source of information about crimes such a burglaries or muggings that residents living in close proximity may want to know about in detail.
A source told the news site
, “DCPI is a small unit, so I don't know how they're going to handle it." Reporters could conceivably obtain the local precinct complaint reports by filing Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, but such requests
take up to 60 days to process.
In a statement to The Stream, the NYPD said the move will not result in any policy changes at the DCPI office, whose procedures "have been in place for decades." The statement noted that media can "go through DCPI to get information or to set upmeetings with their local precincts regarding crime and safety information." The NYPD did not respond to question about whether local complaint reports would be available through DCPI in the same format previously available through many local precincts.
The NYPD also stressed the need to safeguard information contained in many complainant reports, writing, "Complainant reports contain confidential information that could jeopardize the safety of a witness or compromise an ongoing investigation. It is essential that we safeguard ongoing investigations and the identity of victims of crimes and other information."
The NYPD's crime map: How useful is it?
Sunday, the NYPD heralded its creation of an interactive crime map that provides data on felony crime occurrences for 2012 and 2013.
"This administration has relied on data to drive its crime fighting," said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, "and this map helps enhance New Yorkers’ and researchers’ understanding of where felony and violent crime persists."
The map allows users to compare crime statistics by precinct, or zoom in to see the frequency of crimes like rape, murder and grand larceny near a particular address. It also allows the user to compare concentration of various crimes in New York City neighborhoods by population.
Below is a screenshot of the NYPD's new interactive crime map, zoomed into the Astoria neighborhood in Queens:
While the visualization is new, the data is the same that has been available on the NYPD's
since 2003 in the form of weekly PDF documents from the department's CompStat program. The information available is restricted to "basic data" on seven major felonies: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, felonious assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny motor vehicle.
Users cannot determine from the map the specific crime details or when a crime happened with any more specificity than the month it occurred. The NYPD also published a page of
caveats and warnings
about the map, including the admission that it does not include any reports than cannot be tied to a specific address or intersection.
The map has been criticized by some for being selective about the crimes it chooses to show, arguing it focuses on crimes the department is experiencing success in combating. The map details violent crime occurrences, such as murder, which Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says are "on pace to fall below recent historic lows."
A blogger for the Village Voice newspaper
the NYPD for leaving out traffic fatalities, which are reportedly on pace this year to outnumber murders for the first time in the city's history.
The CompStat data that makes up the NYPD's map has itself been called into question for errors. In April, an outside
of the department's statistical reporting found widespread misclassification. For instance, the report
more than 2,000 grand larcenies that were left out due their being misclassified as either petty theft or lost property. In a
by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, many retired New York City police officers reported pressure to manipulate CompStat data by downgrading reports of serious crimes.
NYPD transparency: The big picture
The NYPD under Ray Kelly has come under fire for a lack of transparency and
hostility to journalists. In 2009, Kelly attempted to
crime beat reporters from the "police shack" bureau at NYPD headquarters. In July 2011, the NYPD's chief spokesperson Paul Browne
amid allegations of withholding information and lying about police misconduct.
One of the chief manifestations of the NYPD's lack of transparency has been from the department's treatment of FOIL requests. Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, known for their Pulitzer-winning revelations about the NYPD, recently
, "For the most part they don't respond... Even the NSA responds."
from New York City Public Advocate's office under Bill de Blasio gave the NYPD an "F" grade on its willingness to respond to FOIL request. The study found that nearly 30 percent of FOIL requests to the NYPD took more than 60 days to answer and another 30 percent of requests never received a response.
Transparency advocates hope that de Blasio's vocal criticism of the NYPD's FOIL practices will translate to changes in the department when he becomes mayor in January. Speaking to the
, a representative of the New York Civil Liberties Union said, "Starting in January, we expect the department to take a dramatically different approach to openness, one that will benefit not only local newspapers but the press and public in general."
What do you think about the NYPD's changes in issuing crime data? Leave a comment below.