OpenGov Voices: How open is your city’s crime data?

An image of Brittany Suszan.

Brittany Suszan, SpotCrime. Image credit: SpotCrime

SpotCrime is a public facing crime mapping and alert website founded in 2007. We use open crime data from cities across the US to create maps and alerts for our users. Currently, we’re estimated to be the most visited crime mapping site in the US with over 1 million monthly views and sending out over 8.5 million email alerts a month.

Our popularity and over 7 years of experience with crime data across the country has allowed us to recently evolve from simply publishing crime data to becoming an advocate for open, equal and fair access to crime data.

Many residents, journalists and open data advocates want to see this data available. They just don’t have as much time to devote to the issue as we do. Because SpotCrime spends a great deal of effort on figuring out if each US city is open with their crime data, we’ve taken the time to score the cities based on what we know about their crime data transparency.

Ranking Cities

We rank US cities on a scale of 0 to 2 on how open and transparent their police agencies are with crime data. A 2 rank means the city is open with its data, a 0 means it’s not. More on the ranking system is below.

The hope is that these rankings will jump start discussions about the importance of openness and availability of crime data, question why some US cities are more open than others, why some cities haven’t started sharing data, what is being done differently from city to city and how to make crime data openly available in every US city. We’ve even created the SpotCrime Open Crime Standard – SOCS – to help with this.

Open Data is Key

When a city wants to be open with crime data, we recommend they create and release the information themselves. A trend has emerged among police agencies that when they contract with a third party proprietary crime mapping vendor, the open data feed already available to the public is arbitrarily turned off.

This is not open data. Open data is when the public has the ability to download the information in a machine readable format, use it, map it and share it as they please.

The Rankings

Check out the full list and ranking system below. Our original list started with 50 cities, but over the past couple of months we’ve added cities at the request of our users.

There are cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago who have consistently been open with crime data – even if they do contract with a preferred vendor – earning them a 2 ranking.

In cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio and Columbus where a proprietary vendor was given preferential access, we’ve been successful in helping restore or create an open and unrestricted feed. All three of these cities have moved to a 2 in the ranking system.

Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Indianapolis are cities we haven’t been so lucky – yet. Minneapolis is ranked 1 because they still provide .pdfs of data (.pdfs are not open data). Las Vegas gets a 0 because there’s no way to collect data openly.

In Indianapolis it’s our understanding that the original data feed we were using to map crime was requested by the Office of Homeland Security of Indiana. However, because of recent computer upgrades and budgetary issues, that data is no longer being requested and is therefore no longer available and open to the public. It’s frustrating to see a massive technological database upgrade reduce open access to crime data. On top of that, the Indianapolis Police Department recently contracted with a proprietary vendor. When this happened, they jumped from 2 to a 0 moving from one of the most open cities in the US to one of the most restricted.

The List

Do you disagree with any of the rankings? Don’t see a city you’d like added? Let us know. We’ll add it and rank it on our ‘live’ list.

More About The Ranking System

A 2 rank is the highest rank meaning the city is open with crime data and follows the following criteria:

  • Fair and equal access to the data; there are no restrictions on use or sharing of the information
  • It’s free; no registrations, licenses, fees, etc are associated with collecting the information
  • It’s available in machine readable format or a format capable of automating
  • Information is timely and up to date

A 1 rank is the middle rank. The city may publish some sort of crime data feed, but it’s:

  • Incomplete (missing part of a location, missing time, etc)
  • Out of date (In some cases up to date information is only given to a preferred vendor and everyone else has to wait up to a week to receive similar information)
  • The information is in a really hard to read format (.pdf, fax, snail mail, word doc)

A 0 rank is the lowest rank meaning:

  • There is no open crime data feed available
  • Or, most of the time, crime data access has been given to a third party proprietary vendor who then places restrictions on how the information can be used and shared

Brittany Suszan does Market Development for SpotCrime, a Baltimore-based crime mapping and alert website. She loves talking about the importance of open crime data with police agencies, open data advocates and the public. You can follow her Open Data board on Pinterest, read more about crime data at the SpotCrime Blog, or reach her by email at brittany[at]

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