Violent Crime Down, Theft Up

The good news is that violent crime has dropped in Albemarle and Charlottesville this year: homicides are down 100% in Albemarle and 50% in Charlottesville; rapes are down 19% in the county and 22% in the city; and aggravated assaults are down 12% in the county and 13% in the city. The bad news is that theft is on the increase — it’s up by 50% in Albemarle and 31% in Charlottesville. This after years of declines in burglaries in the county, dropping annually from 2000 to 2004. Given the small number of actual crimes (88 burglaries in Charlottesville from January 1 – May 31), police figure that this is a result of a small burglary ring at work. These break-ins are happening not at night, as was going on last year, but in the daytime, when people are less likely to be home. Note that the Albemarle statistics are just for the first quarter, while Charlottesville’s are for the first five months of the year. Rob Seal has the story in today’s Daily Progress.

Albemarle county provides some aggregate crime statistics on their website, while Charlottesville provides only this puzzling chart. I wish the area police departments would provide raw incident data on their site — date, time, crime classification and block address — to permit citizens to find out exactly what’s going on in their neighborhood or, better yet, compile their own crime statistics. I’d love to put together a Google map plotting crime locations over time, create a scatterplot of crime trends, or create an RSS feed to track auto thefts.

17 thoughts on “Violent Crime Down, Theft Up”

  1. Considering the amount of crimes couldn’t one simply go down to the police station and pull the information you are looking for? I assume that these reports aren’t available online. (and no I’m not suggesting that you go down and get this yourself)

    These could be a beginning of a nice collaborative venture. If someone got the info and formatted correctly (you could tell us what that would be) would the report be that difficult? I would think that the cops might even be willing to pay for the effort. It would certainly highlighted areas that need more attention and a nice way to see if the police are making a difference.

    By the way I’ve tried the Google Earth and really I really like it.

  2. I’d fully support a google map plot of this sort of info. Last March my apartment at College Park (Old Lynchburg Rd) was broken into twice in a month. I lost over $1800 in personal items (laptop, digital camera, etc).

    The worst part about it was that our bolt-lock was not tampered with and College Park admitted that our keys could be duplicated without their knowledge. The property manager offered to release me from my lease as I no longer felt safe there, yet sixty one days later I recieved a letter from their coorporate office asking where their money was. College Park is still the worst managed company I’ve ever run into (they tampered with the locks before the police arrived, despite our pleas to stop and did not even acknowledge the incident until a month later).

    Altogether the incident cost me $1800 in lost items, $1600 for the lease I ended up not being released from and $1000 for a summer sublease where I felt safer. Both burglaries happened during the day as stated in your post. It’s a real shame, because I moved back to Charlottesville to escape the crime of my hometown (the worse parts of Tidewater VA). I guess nowadays we get to chose a community of violent crime or of theft. Sometimes one isn’t far behind the other it seems.

    My story was written up in the Hook, which helped put a detective back on my case, but of course, they turned up nothing. I’d really like to see more community attention brought to this subject and would like to hear of other peoples experiences with theft around cville.

  3. Considering the amount of crimes couldn’t one simply go down to the police station and pull the information you are looking for?

    Maybe — I don’t know. I think, at best, one would just end up with a long printout, rather than something in an electronic format.

    After I was the victim of a hit-and-run by a drunk driver a few years ago I spent some quality time trying to get data on the perp from the city and county police. They were extremely uncooperative, with the woman at the front desk of one agency telling me that it was totally unreasonable and damned near un-American for me to expect to be able to get somebody’s conviction record. I ended up sitting at a old amber-and-black terminal in a closet in the Charlottesville courthouse (“in a disused bathroom with a sign on the door saying Beware of Leopard”), using an arcane interface to pull data that, in order to take with me, I had to jot on a legal pad, what with neither a printer nor a disk drive.

    I’m not optimistic. :)

  4. Sloan, I remember your story from The Hook. That was a bad situation.

    I’ll volunteer here. If anybody can persuade either the Charlottesville or Albemarle police departments to put crime data on their website in some sort of a machine-readable format (CSV, XML, HTML tables — just something standard), then I will write the code to extract the data on a regular basis and update a Google map with the resultant data. If the initial data is provided in something awkward, I will also take the cleaned-up, standardized data and make that available in something reasonable (presumably CSV) so that others can manipulate the data as well.

    Jim Duncan and I talked about this last year. We figure that this data would be helpful to home buyers, so they can check out house locations on the map and figure out how safe the area is.

  5. I wish the area police departments would provide raw incident data on their site — date, time, crime classification and block address — to permit citizens to find out exactly what’s going on in their neighborhood or, better yet, compile their own crime statistics.

    Most large cities provide some variation of this, I can’t imagine why the city and the county would not want to do so as well, unless they think that by controling the information they are maintaining some sort of advantage.

    After I was the victim of a hit-and-run by a drunk driver a few years ago I spent some quality time trying to get data on the perp from the city and county police.

    When I lived on the west coast, I was involved in a hit and run. I was sideswiped by an angry Fifty-something year old passing illegally. Long story short, I got his plate number before he bolted, and turned him into the police. While they would not prosecute him the police *did* send me his complete name address and phone number (etc), so I could turn him over to professional knee-cappers, er… I mean my Insurance company. :)

    I can’t see any reason local police shouldn’t be as helpful.

  6. FOIA is a beautiful thing. With a written request and some time, it can be done. I know this is not the same as receiving it in a format easily transferrable to googlemaps. I think one or two of our City Council folks may be interested in providing information though.

  7. I’ll also volunteer to do some data input or whatever is needed. I also had this idea a few weeks back when I was playing around with KML files in Google Earth. It would really act as an incentive for apartment complexes and neighborhoods to address the issue instead of it being swept under the rug through lack of exposure.

    You know, even though I was disappointed to have been robbed twice in Charlottesville, I have been very pleased by the rest of the community’s willingness to hear my story. Barbara Nordin was very kind to put my story in the Hook and I think its a real testament to Cville that you guys propose something like this. Its really something that every community should offer.

  8. I think your idea of a Google map is a good one. It would show where the problems are.
    Nice to know crime is down, according to statistics. Not much consolation if you are a victim though. Granted we are not in the same league as Richmond or DC but we do have some problems. The gang attacks that occurred recently should be a wake-up call.

  9. “Is this a safe area?” is one of the first questions most of my clients ask. The City and County would be doing a great service if they would provide the crime data in a format that is easily used by those who know how to implement the mash-ups, etc.

    We tried last year to get some movement on this, clearly to no avail. Perhaps this year will bring some more interest. I know that I would be appreciative, and so would my clients.

  10. The city and county will never agree to this – I believe the city did post police reports for a while at one time. There are a number of reasons for not posting this data:

    – it can be used/mined to determine where police resources are being deployed. Neither the police, for tactical reasons, nor the political leadership, for political reasons, want this data out there.

    it can be used to monitor police performance

    – Like the hook article, it can be used by folks outside the department or the City’s PR people to create an image of the department that may or may not be a representative/accurate (or fair) picture of their performance.

    My personal sense is that both departments are afraid of the extent of their ineffectiveness being revealed:

    – I don’t believe they really influence the violent crime numbers one iota – in fact, I expect that these dramatic changes from year to year are simply “in the noise” statistically – in other words, meaningless variations – a 50-100% change from year to year is probably close to being inside one standard deviation. Our overall violent crime numbers are so low that going from 0 to 3 to 1 murders in successive years would generate this type of situation – all the while having nothing to do with police performance (either good or bad). Moreoever, in defense of the police, the types of violent crimes we have, for the most part, are not ones where they could have had much of an impact (crimes of passion).

    – Our police are generally pretty lousy at solving crimes where the solution isn’t immediately obvious. For example, the serial rapist, on the extreme violent end, and the extended run enjoyed by the “development robbers” who worked their way through one neighborhood after another over several months. What they do appear to be good at are really ham handed tactics – the DNA dragnet and Corey Faison cases jump to mind.

    – Our police are good at grabbing for low hanging fruit, even when it’s not there. The Christopher Matthew rape arrest comes to mind – first black guy they found walking down the street. Sure, the witness did “identify” him (fortunately for him, he was cleared by DNA after 5 days in jail), but only because he was the first black man the police nabbed and brought to her. An analysis of crime reports vs. resolution would make this pattern pretty clear.

    I am somewhat bitter about and skeptical of our police because of a personal experience – I had a motorcycle stolen from my carport one night after I’d gone to bed. It was wrecked shortly afterwards by the joyriders. The county police looked up the registration, and since I was out of their jurisdiction, they got the city police to come by and attempt to arrest me for drunk driving. The city officer bluffed and bullied my wife at 5AM into getting into our house (no warrant) and into demanding to see me/wake me up. We had no obligation to do either. The officer then proceeded to try to play a game of 20 questions with me in an attempt to trick me into saying something incrimminating. The situation wasn’t “ironed out” until I demanded the officer leave my house, refused to talk to her anymore unless through my attorney, and threatened civil action for the harrassment at 5AM. After that, in my front yard, the officer was polite and actually stated why they were there – and, I’m a white guy and was living in a “good” neighborhood in an expensive house, I can’t imagine what it would be like on Hardy Dr.

    Of course, it was quite easy to run the plates – it’s another thing to actually investigate and do something. As Sloan notes: it took a Hook article to get a dective moving on his case. My “detective” called me and said it was nice I got my “moped” back, and talked about the hot weather. That was it – an “easy” quick solve by running plates, even if it involves badgering a private citizen and trying to do an endrun around a lot of procedural civil liberties checks (SOP, IMHO), is about the level of effort they’re willing to make; doing more would require real time and effort – perhaps those are resources the upper management in the departments and political leadership aren’t willing to expend.

    This is all anecdotal, of course – it would take access to the raw data to see if this is an accurate picture. If it weren’t accurate, though, or close to the truth, I think they’d be rolling out the data quite openly – they’d be happy to demonstrate their effectiveness.

    It may also be the case that, even if this is an accurate picture of the police, that it’s a good as it gets anywhere under any circumstances – our city and county departments may be as good as any – that the real truth is that police can’t really do much more. We have Hollywood expectations sometimes – CSI, Law & Order, et al. – which are completely unrealistic. It is sad, though, for such a small, relatively well-off, progressive and peaceful place, that we still have, in just the past ten years, a KW Robinson, the two corrupt city officers, DNA dragnets and the rest of the Barney Fife garbage. What does that say about the quality of law enforcement, degree of corruption and lack of respect for civil liberties in larger communities?

    Anyway, don’t hold your breath for real data, much less stuff demonstrating which neighborhoods report more crime and where the police engage in real enforcement.

  11. You may be correct in that they’re not going to go out of their way to supply this kind of data. I’m curious if anyone knows whether this data is, by law, public? And if it is, isn’t the only real issue that there is no streamlined way of obtaining the info?

  12. folks, the UVA engineering school did this years ago, they’ve been working with the city (and maybe county?) police for over 10 years to provide them with mapping data, which they use to help predict crime. I believe they adjust where and when they send patrols accordingly. Not sure if it’s public or not, but it does exist.

    Did a quick google, here’s a link to an article about it:

  13. I checked out the website for the software program (“ReCAP”) and it’s actually free. There’s no source code, unfortunately, and it’s Windows-only. But that seems like one more great reason for local police departments to make crime data available. ReCAP would be a great tool for neighborhood associations and citizens groups to use to look into their own crime trends, which is something that could benefit us all.

    Many hands make light work.

  14. My memory is a bit foggy on this, but in January my bicycle was stolen off the Mall and I filed an incident report. I seem to remember the lists of incident reports being available online in large HTML tables. That was during the eopch of the old, terrible City website (as opposed to the new, marginally-less terrible City website) and I now can’t find anything on the website resembling what I remember.

    I suppose my only contribution to this discussion is to suggest that the incident reports might be a useful dataset to map. It wouldn’t raise the same objections from the police (it wouldn’t show their tactics or deployments) but it would provide much of the same utility to citizens. Sure, there are going to be unreliable and foolish reports, and the incident report list wouldn’t include any crime directly witnessed by an officer, but it would still provide a reasonable picture of what parts of town are jumping at any given period.

  15. Thanks so much for that Chicago Crime link, Michael. That was the first killer app using Google Maps. I was totally blown away when I first saw it — and that was when it was a single page with a map of Chicago with some dots on it. It’s improved significantly since then. I’d forgotten what city it was for, though, and hadn’t been back since.

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