Details on local crime hot spots can be culled from a new database and crime-mapping program built by the Los Angeles Times that contains information on all serious crimes recorded by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Both agencies, like many other police departments, have long used computer mapping programs internally to detect crime patterns, develop strategies, determine how to deploy officers. They have been experimenting with ways to make crime data available to the public in bulk, electronic and form – often hiring outside companies to build online crime maps or, in some cases, posting raw crime data online that can be downloaded.
The Times’ crime mapping program, which started yesterday, goes a step further, allowing users to analyze crime statistics, search historic crime patterns, and receive alerts when several crimes occur in an area over a short period of time. As is common practice when releasing information about reported crimes, the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments provide the block where a crime occurs, instead of the exact address. When any type of data are made public, there’s some potential for misinterpretation. “It’s always better for police departments to be as transparent as possible,” said Greg Ridgeway, director of Rand Corp.’s Center on Quality Policing. “But it can be hard for the public to understand some things. The impulse will be to see that two crimes occurred on the same block on the same day and to call that a pattern or a trend” when it may not be a sign of anything unusual.