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Tag Archive: cities

The Impact of Opening Up Crime Data



Many cities in the U.S. release crime data, but how much information is available and how it's released varies greatly. Although there are more static tables with crime stats posted on websites than we’d like to count, there are also plenty of examples of decently structured data releases that form the foundation for informative and creative uses of crime data -- raising the bar for what is possible. All around the country, journalists, developers, and many other groups are transforming public crime data into meaningful stories, apps, data visualizations, and more, responding to the high demand for access to and better understanding of this information. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of the strongest examples of the different ways crime data can be used.

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The Landscape of Municipal Crime Data


Every community deals with the presence of crime. This is evident in the daily police report logs shared through newspapers, community news websites, on TV, and through many other media outlets. The number of places sharing this information serves as a testament to not only the volume of information created from crime, but also to the public demand for this information. People want to know about crime to better understand what's happening in their neighborhoods -- the places they or their families live, work, and play.


In the era of open data and online access to media and government sources, there appears to be a proliferation of crime information: How that data is shared from the original source, however, varies widely. Many municipalities use some kind of mapping service to share information with the public about where various kinds of incidents are occurring, while others focus on aggregate information posted online either in static tables or PDF reports. These variations show not just different understandings of how to share information about crime with the public, but also different understandings of what information about crime is useful to the public.

There are whole fields of study devoted to tracking and evaluating crime, but these complexities do not bar us from focusing attention on how this valuable data is collected and shared -- and how the systems for those processes can be improved.

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City Finances Were A Story Before Detroit’s Bankruptcy


The news is indeed big and deserving of attention: As of last week, Detroit is now the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy.

The news, however, is perhaps not as shocking as some would portray it. While national publications have only recently jumped on the story, Detroit's local media have long been keeping the public informed about the city's finances and the series of events that eventually led to filing for bankruptcy.

Accessing public records -- including details about the city's financial data, contracts, and many other datasets -- has enabled the media to shine a light over the years on the city's fiscal challenges. Outlets like Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Fox 2 News, and many others were on this story long before the news of bankruptcy woke up the media giants: capturing critical moments like when the city realized it was close to running out of cash in 2011 and press conferences by Detroit leaders in 2012 that described how allowing state intervention could help prevent bankruptcy. Continued coverage from the local media kept residents informed about what was happening, what events and politics had led Detroit to this situation, and what could come next. The potential of bankruptcy was no surprise to those who followed the process of state intervention in the city's finances.


With a population of more than 700,000 people, Detroit is now the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, but it is by no means the first large city to do so. Cities like Stockton (population: 296,000), Vallejo (population: 117,000), and San Bernardino (population: 213,000) have been there, too, and the stories out of those cities can help show what to watch for in Detroit. (And, if San Bernardino is any example, other cities can show some of the particular challenges to financial information disclosure that may appear during bankruptcy proceedings.)

No two places provide an exact apples to apples comparison, however. Each city has its own history, process, and paper trail -- and each needs an experienced scout to know how to traverse the political landscape and to help the public do the same. That's why it's so important to have access to public records (the key to understanding our political past and present) and to have watchdogs who use them to review the political process and show those in power that they will be held accountable for their actions.

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