Social Responsibility

Well, I have been picking away at this project for a couple of weeks now, and I think I am ready to unleash it upon the world at large:

Announcing the Interactive Map of Grand Rapids, Michigan Criminal Incidents.

I first began toying around with this idea last October when someone broke into my car and stole my radio. As the week progressed at least half a dozen other cars on my block were broken into, quite probably by the same person. It got me thinking: If we could get some idea of the general time of the incidents, and find all car break-ins in the surrounding blocks, then the information could be used to catch the bastard.

I let this idea gestate for a while as other things โ€” house, school, tai chi โ€” took precedence.

A couple of months ago I grabbed a user key from Google Maps and started playing around with the API, exploring what could and could not be done, and how. I also started looking online for reports of the various crimes which happen in Grand Rapids every day. I was surprised (and quite disappointed) to see that there was practically no useful information about criminal activity available online. Statistics are out there, but those are cold numbers, with nothing like specific date, time, location and type of crimes.

As I continued to look I discovered that WOOD TV’s website was the only place in the whole of the worldwide web which consistently reported crime and โ€” more importantly โ€” archived the stories. So the WOODTV archives became my data set.

There are currently 47 incidents on the map. They were all I could find reported in 2006. They represent, I suppose, the worst of the crimes committed, but they also represent the least common crimes. News outlets don’t report when someone’s car is robbed, or when someone is mugged with no bloodshed. So assuming that the extremes of antisocial behavior are the result of day-to-day pressures the map gives a fairly accurate view of what is going on in Grand Rapids.

But it is not enough. At a rough guess, this is perhaps 10 percent of the activity in the city. The smaller incidents affect more people, and so ultimately they are the more important data. A friend has promised to connect me with a GRPD officer who may be able to provide me with the data I need. When that happens you will see a sharp jump in the number and variety of incidents pegged on the map.

Each colored icon represents a crime as reported at
Different crimes are represented by different colors.
Click on the icons to see the associated details.
Use the dropdown menus above the map to filter the crimes by type, date, zip code, and city quadrant. Hit the “RESET” button to reset all of the filters.
Use the tool in the upper-left corner of the map to zoom in and out, and to scroll in the four cardinal directions. You can also click-and-drag anywhere on the map to move it around.

And most important โ€” let me know what you think of my efforts. If you would like to see additional features, or if you know of additional sources of information, or anything else, please let me know.

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