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Give a mouse a cookie, as the eponymous children’s book puts it, and he’ll ask for a glass of milk.
And so it stands to reason that if you give a tech-savvy, data-hungry public part of a giant pool of data — the rest of it will soon be in demand.
In December, as first reported by Technically Philly, the city made public for the first time a huge set of Philadelphia police crime statistics (available at OpenDataPhilly) as part of its effort to make city data accessible to the public.
It’s an effort that will probably face a number of tests and tensions as it evolves: the idea of making raw data available to the public is a relatively new one and, to some extent, requires that the city administration relinquish the power to release information when and how it sees fit. While some departmental data has always been public, the city hadn’t had a single, coherent policy regarding its data, leaving those decisions largely within city departments.
An executive order issued by Mayor Nutter last spring, titled “Open Data and Government Transparency,” sought to change that: it declared the city’s commitment to “openness and transparency,” stated that “more City data sets should be published and made available” and established a new city position, that of “Chief Data Officer, ” which has since been filled by Mark Headd, a local developer and self-described “civic hacking evangelist.”
December’s police data release was one of the first projects Headd has taken on since coming aboard, and he called the release “a major milestone” in the city’s implementation of open data policies.
It certainly is that: the police data, which includes six years’ worth of statistics for a wide range of crimes, represents vastly more information than was previously available to the public via the police-contracted website www.crimereports.com.
But it’s also an incomplete release: The city has so far published only “Part 1” crime data, a federal code that refers to violent and property crimes including homicide, assault, theft, burglary, arson, robbery, and rape.
It’s invaluable data, but leaves out many of the incidents that comprise much of the city’s day-to-day policing, described as “Part 2” crimes — a category that includes smaller crimes like loitering, vandalism, and liquor offenses, but also the wide range of drug offenses that play such a large role in our criminal justice system. This is also true for the city’s Crimereports.com map and a new map featured at Phila.gov/map, which lists only some of the Part 1 crimes and none of those listed under Part 2.
It’s also worth noting that Mayor Nutter, in a recent review of 2012 crime statistics, noted that “Part 1 crime has been reduced significantly” — but made no mention of Part 2 crimes in the same statement.
What might those stats have added to the public’s assessment of city progress? We can’t know without seeing them.
Chief Data Officer Headd told AxisPhilly last week that he hasn’t had a chance to go over the Part 2 data with Philadelphia Police officials and can’t yet say “when it will be ready for release and how much effort it will take,” — but that he plans to take up the issue soon and will keep us posted.
Have data you’d like to see unearthed, expanded, explored or hunted down? Use OpenDataPhilly.org’s “Nominate Data” function to suggest new data sets, and/or email Isaiah Thompson (isaiah at axisphilly dot org) with your ideas.