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.
“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.