‘Crowdsourcing Murder’: An Ex-Journalist’s Data Project

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Photo by Will via Flickr

Former Scripps-Howard journalist Thomas Hargrove now runs the Murder Accountability Project (MAP), a tiny nonprofit seeking to make FBI murder data more widely and easily available, Bloomberg reports. Using Freedom of Information Act requests, MAP has tried to chase down data from the many municipalities and counties that weren’t supplying  murder data to the FBI, out of bureaucratic laziness, a lack of manpower, or perhaps just incompetence.

MAP has assembled case details on 638,454 homicides from 1980 through 2014, including 23,219 cases that hadn’t been reported to the FBI. This is the most complete list of case-level details of U.S. murders available anywhere, and the group’s website has open-sourced all of it. Anyone with statistical analysis software, available free online, can start looking, across jurisdictions, for serial killers. Anyone can compare convicted killers’ timelines against the timing of unsolved murders to determine if a connection is plausible. “You can call up your hometown and look and see if you see anything suspicious,” Hargrove says. “If you’re the father of a murdered daughter, you can call up her record, and you can see if there might be other records that match. We wanted to be able to crowdsource murder.” Hargrove says the police homicide clearance rate dropped from 64.5 percent in 2014 to 61.5 percent in 2015. That translates into 6,043 murder cases in 2015 that didn’t result in arrests. He says large cities tend to have worse clearance rates than small towns, perhaps because major cases are more rare in less populated areas and therefore tend to get special attention.

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