I Would Call That a Successful Project

The Grand Rapids Police Department has just launched a new Crime Map. It is very well done, easy to use, and has more detailed and current information than I could ever hope to use in my own map. And, unlike their previous crime map, it doesn’t crash my browser when I try to use it.

I guess my work here is done.

Since I launched my map, back in 2005, I have pulled all of the incidents therein from the local news. News being what it is, only the incidents which were newsworthy made it into my map – mostly violent crime. Happenings which were out of the ordinary. As the data increased over the years it became obvious that, while it is good to know where these incidents tend to occur, it really isn’t all that useful in day-to-day life. Simply put, if something makes it into the news, it is because it is something which doesn’t happen very often.

Consider: I live in a neighborhood for years. One day one of my neighbors goes crazy and shoots his wife. For the next twenty years, nothing news-worthy happens on my street. Yet, because of that one incident, which was very much an outlier event, now my block has the reputation of being the kind of place where people get shot. Adding this incident to a map provides inaccurate information in two ways:

1. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever repeat that crime on this block again, and

2. This was not a natural consequence of living in a crime-ridden neighborhood.

It is not the newsworthy crimes which define the livability and safety of a neighborhood – it is the mundane, happens-to-everyone incidents, like getting the radio stolen from your car, graffiti, drunken fights during a college party, drug deals, or getting mugged. The incidents which, in a city, tend to become indistinguishable from the background noise until it happens to you.

I created my map as a response to having the radio stolen from my car twice, in two different neighborhoods, two years apart. Yet incidents like that never make the local news. Which neighborhood would you rather live in – the one where someone was one killed in a fit of domestic rage, or the one where people get bikes stolen from their back yards on a weekly basis? The first incident is essentially a Black Swan, and could happen anywhere; from the worst ghetto to the most exclusive gated community. The second tends to happen where people are less involved and less invested in their property and community.

So I am going to stop updating my map. I will leave it where it is, along with the story behind it, and my contact information. I am in the process of upgrading the simple content management system behind the map, and will continue to do so until I decide I have done it right, or until someone releases a software package which does everything my system does, only better.

To all of you who have used my map for the past four years, thank you for your kind comments and suggestions. I am happy that I was able to provide this service for so long.

Once again, the new Grand Rapids Police Department Crime Map can be found at http://www.crimemapping.com/map/mi/grandrapids.

Crime Map 2.0

I just finished up the last hour of polishing on the new version of the Grand Rapids Crime Map. Here is a list of the changes:

-all incidents are up to date
-new filters are in place: date, weekday, and street name
-more organized, usable layout
-content managed to allow for easier and more frequent updates

I built the new version – interface and content management system – in PHP. The data for the crimes is loaded using a Python script. Eventually this whole site may well be ported over to Python. It’s a neat language.

Here are some interesting tidbits which came to light using the new filters:

-Monday and Wednesday are the crimiest days of the week
-Division Ave, Plainfield Ave, Leonard Street and 28th Street have the most incidents
-49507 is the busiest zip code
-the SouthEast quadrant is by far the most exciting area of town.
-March, May and August are the angriest months

I am sure there is still a little clean-up left to do in the data, so expect things to shift around a bit over the next week or so.


Crime Map Interface Update

I just made a small update to the UI of the Grand Rapids Crime Map. There is now a tally of the incidents displayed, based on the selections from the filters.

Some stats, as of February 21, 2008, mid-afternoon:

Total incidents: 209
Homicides: 44
Armed Robberies: 88
Armed Assaults: 55

..and so forth. Some interesting pattern arise as you poke around in the map. I found this one, which makes me want to stay away from the 44th Street/Kalamazoo Ave area in the month of May:

Armed robberies, in the month of May, in Zip Code 49508

I am thinking of adding the ability to filter by street name, too. I don’t know how useful that would be, but it would be interesting to be able to call out, say, Plainfield, and watch the armed robberies march north from Leonard Street to Northland Drive.

Makes me not want to go there, either.

Updates and Upgrades

I just added a new entry to the Crime Map – an Armed Assault. Some dude got shot down on the SouthWest side. I also changed the status of one of the crimes. This is the first time I have needed to do such a thing, and it upset me a little. There was a kid got beat up outside of a bar back on the 10th of this month. Well, a few days ago, he died of his injuries. So now the Crime Map has its first homicide of the year. My sympathies go out to the family of Jonathan Krystiniak.

This bothered me more than it might have, because of the similarities to an incident that nearly took the life of a good friend. Long time readers of this blog may remember this particularly stressful month, back in 2004.

I have to say that WOOD TV is doing a very good job of covering the Krystiniak story. Of the few local news websites that actually cover local news, theirs is the only one where information is easily accessible, and regularly archived.


In other news, I have begun the process of re-designing and upgrading this website. Hopefully things will go smoothly and (for readers) invisibly, but there is the possibility that es.o could be down for a little while. I am going to upgrade the blogging software – TextPattern – to the newest build, which is 4.something. I am currently using 1.something. The new design should be ready to go in a few more weeks. I have some other things to get off my plate before I can attend to my own desires.

[EDIT: 6:15pm]
Turns out that I just had to upgrade last night’s shooting to a homicide. So now we are up to two murders in Grand Rapids in the month of January, 2008. January 2007 also had 2 murders. With four days left in the month we still have a chance to beat that record!


I have just updated the Grand Rapids Crime Map for the first time since, I think, May. I now have 120 incidents located.

This round of updates includes several teenagers being shot, a couple of bank robberies, the attempted rape of an 85 year old woman and the attempted robbery of a 72 year old man. You may have heard of that last on from the national news.

Oh yeah. And an officer killed in the line of duty. For some reason, that one bothered me more than the rest. Maybe because it was the only violent crime (other than the 85-year-old woman) where the victim definitely didn’t have it coming.

If Grand Rapids doesn’t fucking chill out soon, I may have to build a content management system for my pet project just to keep up with the idiocy.


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 — house, school, tai chi — 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 — more importantly — 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 woodtv.com.
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 — 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.