On point: Pushing for crime-mapping

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On point: Pushing for crime-mapping

Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

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Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (right), Chair of the Technology Committee in the City Council, convened a hearing on making crime-mapping available to the public.

This past Fri., Mar. 1st, Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Technology, discussed a possible amendment to the New York City Charter that would require the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) to create and maintain an interactive crime-mapping website that would make public incidents of crime throughout the city.

Present at the hearing were Nicholas Sbordone, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at DOITT, and Colin Reilly, Director of Citywide Geographic Information Systems.

Since the 1990’s, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has used crime mapping.

While the data is available to the public, only the NYPD and certain government officials, including members of the City Council, have been privy to the visualization of this data in the form of a map.

Some cities, such as Oakland, California and Baltimore, Maryland have already made crime mapping websites available to the public.

Councilmember Cabrera expressed that DOITT and the NYPD should follow suit since such information would prove valuable to the city’s residents.

“Most people are not getting this information readily,” said the Councilmember. “It should be transparent. This is about channeling information.”

Councilmember Cabrera said non-for profits and other community organizations would be able to use the information to better direct their work and efforts.

But Councilmember Oliver Koppell, who was also present at the meeting, expressed privacy concerns. He suggested re-drafting the bill to ensure privacy protections. A map of 311 service requests, currently available, details callers’ addresses and names.

The same information, he said, should not be revealed about crimes for the victims’ sake.

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Councilmember Oliver Koppell raised concerns on privacy.

“I look forward to a redraft of the bill,” he said.

Nicholas Sbordone, seemed to concur with Koppell’s sentiments.

“If my house is robbed, I would not want it to be a dot on a map,” he said.

Councilmember Cabrera signaled agreement, and also expressed concern about how the map would be navigated.

The online 311 map shows all the city’s community boards’ districts. They are color-coded.

Red precincts are the ones with the highest amount of calls, receiving between 2708 and 3383 requests. A gray district would indicate zero requests. There are no gray districts in New York City, while there are two red districts: Community District 12 in Northern Manhattan, and Community District 7 in the Bronx.

Councilmember Cabrera’s district lies within the borders of Community District 7.

One can click on the map to zoom in and get more specific readings on the exact locations of the calls, but Councilmember Cabrera disliked the initial ambiguity of the map, and hoped the crime map would not look the same by displaying entire precincts instead of Community Districts.

“Just looking at a precinct is useless,” said Councilmember Cabrera. “I can’t do anything with that information. Precincts are huge.”

Moreover, displaying entire precincts as glaring red blocks would be misleading, he said.

“We [the Bronx] don’t have systematic problems,” he argued. “We have pockets.”

Sbordone suggested that another drawback of the crime map is that it might deter investors away from certain neighborhoods.

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Nicholas Sbordone, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at DOITT, and Colin Reilly, Director of Citywide Geographic Information Systems, attended.

But Councilmember Cabrera did not think the map would have an adverse affect in investment, citing decreased crime levels. He also pointed all the business that has come to the Bronx of late: Fresh Direct, Target, and even entrepreneur Donald Trump, who wants to build a golf course.

“We have a market that’s crying for business,” said the Councilmember.

He also argued that ignorance is not bliss: “Neighborhoods decay when people start thinking everything is okay.”

Should the amendment pass, the crime map would be updated weekly, and would be delivered at no cost to taxpayers.

The map is a long way from fruition, however.

“We are at a very preliminary stage right now,” said Sbordone. “And we welcome any suggestions.”

For more on the crime-mapping initiative, please contact the Office of Councilmember Fernando Cabrera at 347.590.2874.