With a mixture of shock and bemusement, Mayor Noam Bramson reacted with incredulity to a presentation by New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick J. Carroll on an innovative service called "Crimemapping.com". Talk of the Sound first recommended Talk of the Sound to the City of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle Police Department back in 2009.
In its recently released Annual Report for 2008, the New Rochelle Police Department announced it had completed its transition to a new police management software system which includes a database for tracking calls for service, incidents and crime reports. With such a system in place, the NRPD is now set up to begin sharing near real-time crime data with residents.
Crimemapping.com describes its service as follows:
CrimeMapping.com has been developed by The Omega Group to help law enforcement agencies throughout North America provide the public with valuable information about recent crime activity in their neighborhood. Our goal is to assist police departments in reducing crime through a better-informed citizenry. Creating more self-reliance among community members is a great benefit to community oriented policing efforts everywhere and has been proven effective in combating crime.
The inspiration for Crimemapping.com came from the work of Adrian Holovaty who developed the first Google Map + Crime Data "mashup" in Chicago. The site was closed down in 2008 and Holovaty has gone on to other projects. He provides a nice summary of those early days of "mashing" data with Google Maps in his farewell article on his original project: In memory of chicagocrime.org.
Chicagocrime.org was one of the original map mashups, combining crime data from the Chicago Police Department with Google Maps. It offered a page and RSS feed for every city block in Chicago and a multitude of ways to browse crime data — by type, by location type (e.g., sidewalk or apartment), by ZIP code, by street/address, by date, and even by an arbitrary route. The New York Times Magazine featured it in its 2005 "Year in Ideas" issue, and it won the 2005 Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism.
The Mayor and his minions have gone into hyper-drive mode to kill this project. The Mayor called it an "anti-marketing campaign" for New Rochelle, Council Member Marianne Sussman expressed her concern on the impact on real estate. Bramson lackey Mitchell Tarnapol claimed today on WVOX that all the crime data was already public for anyone who wanted it, that the Journal News reports on these incidents.
Tarnapol, a real estate broker in New Rochelle, is, entirely misinformed. It was clear listening to him that he has never in his life looked at a police blotter, reviewed incident reports or arrest sheets or sat in the daily press briefings with Captain Schaller, Leslie Korngold or Will David from the Journal News. I have and I can assure readers without fear of contradiction from any of them that only a small fraction of the incidents in New Rochelle are even discussed during these press briefings. Each of us present is looking for the most interesting stories and of that small fraction of stories an even smaller fraction make the Journal News or Talk of the Sound. As the image of the crime map above makes clear, in a given day there are dozens of incidents of which perhaps 1 or 2 will make the papers over the course of a week. Every day there are stories about car break-ins, robberies, burglaries, vandalism, fraud, and so forth.
Tarnapol said the information is there for anyone who wants it. This is true. But how many people know that or act on it or can get access to it on a timely basis. Several years ago there was a series of burglaries and home invasions near the Barnard School including an attempt to break into my house while my wife and children were home asleep. When I first reported the attempted break-in (as evidenced by a broken storm window/screen) my complaint was treated with skepticism. It was only after a half-dozen other neighbors filed complaints that I observed two NRPD detectives wandering around my backyard. When I approached them they informed me that there has been numerous break-ins and attempted break-ins up and down my block over the past few weeks. I had heard nothing about it. I asked them whether they intended to inform people in the area about what was going on and encourage them to be vigilant, set their alarms and keep their lights on they said, to my surprise, that this was not their policy. I took it upon myself to print up flyers and walk up and down the block informing my neighbors of the crime wave in our area.
Every word Police Commissioner Carroll said to Council on Tuesday was 100% spot-on. The first priority of any government is to protect its citizens. The idea that the first priority should be protecting broker commissions for people like Mitchell Tarnopol is beyond idiotic.
As the Commissioner Carroll stated, providing residents easy access to near real-time crime data makes for a more aware, more vigilant community which will be quicker to take simple precautions and report suspicious behavior. The net result will be more cooperation between residents and police, safer communities and, if this is your biggest concern, increased real estate values. Everyone knows crimes happen everywhere; what residents and prospective residents want to know is that they live in a strong, alert community that is actively engaged in preventing crime and assisting police in investigating crime. Pretending there is no crime does not make it so as anyone who is robbed, beaten, stabbed, defrauded, or is otherwise victimized knows.
Sean Adams of WCBS Radio interviewed New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson
“We have, today, the lowest crime rate in more than 40 years and we’re one of the safest cities in america of our size.”
Yes, but the vast majority of the crime happens in a concentrated area. If just the area bounded by Stephenson Boulevard, Eastchester Road, the Sound and the Pelham border were counted, the picture would be VERY different.
Asked to justify pulling the plug on the crime map, the Mayor said:
“Context and education is very important with any form of information that is provided>"
In other words, residents are too stupid to understand what it means if they see 12 car break-ins in one week in their neighborhood displayed on a Google Map.
“Crime alert that enables people to get fuller information that’s tailored to where they live and the area about which they’re concerned will be far more useful than a graphic presentation.”
Nonsense. The crimemapping.com software has an email alert built in. Further, each pushpin on the map is clickable and includes additional information as well as an Event ID which can be used to request a specific incident report with full details. The idea that the public should not be allowed to look at a comprehensive display of crime data or break that data into parts as they wish -- information already in the public record -- is more nanny state gobbledygook.