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Government Transparency: Mining Data to Map Crime

This New York Times article made us think about Buffalo and the way information is disseminated (or not) in order to enhance the lives of the citizenry.  We say “or not” because there was some flack last summer in which Margaret Sullivan, Editior of The Buffalo News was outraged that, after having access to crime reports, her reporters were suddenly cut off from information that Sullivan felt was pertinent and valuable to her readers.

The immediate answer from Mayor Brown’s Director of Communication can be seen here.  At the time, Cutler’s argument was chiefly about protecting the identity of the victims involved in crime cases, but looked at another way, the mining of crime data allows citizens to avoid areas that may make them a target a crime in the first place.
Imagine, say, Buffalo Blue Bicycle or Buffalo Car Share, weekend tourists and parents of school aged children being able to find not only the shortest route to an event or a venue, but the safest also.  We want to bring people into the City of Buffalo, right?
We say if outsiders have a perception of danger when it comes to our streets, we can at least steer them away from some areas most affected by crime.  Granted, there will still be random acts in dense settings, and a rash of crime in areas that wouldn’t be a destination in the first place, but wouldn’t a little forewarning concerning routes taken help to avert crime?
Sites like Crimespotting might be looked at as the direct opposite of what Buffalo Rising would want to see, until one realizes that our endeavor is to enhance good experiences in the City of Buffalo.  Is recognizing crime bad PR for a city, or good practice in keeping people informed and safe?  Let’s face it, crime happens, and being forewarned is being forearmed.
The only down side, perhaps, would occur when a random act, something like a car break-in in the Theater District, or a rare mugging in front of a particular store on a relatively peaceful street occurs.  At that point, it would be up to the reader to make an assessment of the likelihood of recurrence, or perhaps the site offering the information could set up data that would show the random nature or frequency of a location’s safety or lack thereof. 
We particularly agree with the last line of the Times article, a quote by Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer of the United States, when he says that these miners of information help to do a job that the government lacks resources for.  We say, open up those files, and let those who would, bring the information to the public.
Image:  Map from Crimespotting, Oakland, CA.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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