More on Crime Spotters

la homicide map

Yesterday Stamen Design released a very stylized crime map of Oakland, CA (Radar post). I’ve since been made aware of some derivative works and other crime maps that I am going to share.

If you live in LA (or are considering it) then you may want to check out The Homicide Map (above). It was just launched on August 13th and is a geo-oriented visualization of the Homicide Report. The map is updated weekly and “is compiled using information from the Los Angeles County Coroner, local law enforcement agencies, and the Los Angeles Times”. You can get raw data out via KML and RSS. The Map provides rich search and filtering capabilities on race/ethinicity, age, gender, cause, and day of the week. It’s a very impressive site.

[via Google Maps Mania]

The city of Portland uses its GIS tools to publish Crime Mapper. It’s a summary tool and is not interactive like many crime mashups. Unfortunately I don’t see the raw data available on the site. Its interesting because you don’t often get to see traditional GIS tools output on the web, we’re all so used to Google Maps. [via Robbie Wright via comment on Radar]

Mapufacture has added the Stamen-derived Oakland Crime data to their site so that you can now make your own. They also make it very easy to get the raw feed yourself.

Crime mashups aren’t new. They are all inspired by one of the first Google Maps Mashups, Chicago Crime. It was written by Adrian Holovaty, co-creator the Python framework Django. They are all an example of structured information collection in journalism. As he argues in this excellent post, journalists, when researching a story, should capture the data in a structured way so that later certain attributes can be used again. As Adrian states it so well:

This is a subtle problem, and therein lies the rub. In my experience, when I’ve tried to explain the error of storing everything as a news article, journalists don’t immediately understand why it is bad. To them, a publishing system is just a means to an end: getting information out to the public. They want it to be as fast and streamlined as possible to take information batch X and put it on Web site Y. The goal isn’t to have clean data — it’s to publish data quickly, with bonus points for a nice user interface.

But the goal for me, a data person focused more on the long term, is to store information in the most valuable format possible. The problem is particularly frustrating to explain because it’s not necessarily obvious; if you store everything on your Web site as a news article, the Web site is not necessarily hard to use. Rather, it’s a problem of lost opportunity. If all of your information is stored in the same “news article” bucket, you can’t easily pull out just the crimes and plot them on a map of the city. You can’t easily grab the events to create an event calendar. You end up settling on the least common denominator: a Web site that knows how to display one type of content, a big blob of text. That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.

Here’s to hoping Oakland Crimespotting and the Homicide Map serve as inspiration for other journalistic institutions.

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