Chicago will publish crime stats online

Database to dig up past decade of marijuana arrests, homicides

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CHICAGO — Long a city with a reputation for withholding information, Chicago now wants to make public every crime over the past 10 years — an unusual move among the nation’s major police departments.

Effective Wednesday, millions of crime statistics dating to 2001 will be posted online in a searchable database. It will be updated daily, providing fodder for residents to evaluate their neighborhoods, academics to study crime and tech types to create websites or apps.

The release is the latest attempt by the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who took office in May, to make city dealings more open and to counter Chicago’s reputation for entrenched systemic corruption and backroom deals. Chicago officials recently posted online the salaries of city employees, city contracts and lobbying data, with more information expected in coming months.

“It’s a whole new era of openness and transparency,” said Brett Goldstein, the city’s chief data officer and former police officer. “You determine your own analysis.”

Although some Chicagoans are skeptical, the crime data release goes beyond what other major police departments do, analysts say. Besides listing every crime over the past decade — some 4.6 million incidents — the database also lists each address, whether an arrest was made, the police beat, the city ward and the case number. That includes everything from sidewalk arrests for marijuana possession to homicides.

Average people already were able to get details on crimes that happened the previous day, but now they will be able to look back over the past decade on their neighborhoods, wards or entire city. It also increases the potential for more long-term studies and, some hope, take steps toward crime prevention.

“It’s big,” said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “If not unprecedented, it’s very unusual.”

A check of other major police departments that post crime statistics online shows nothing as comprehensive as the Chicago program.

Many cities, including Los Angeles, use third-party companies that map data over a limited period, generally a month or two. Los Angeles also has some historical data available, but it’s through static reports or compilations of incidents. That information isn’t searchable, and a recent check showed that links to several years were broken. Houston has a 30-day log. New York publishes weekly data and has some historical data online, though the department has faced accusations of manipulating data and the police commissioner recently formed a unit to look into the claims.

The Seattle Police Department appears to come closest to what Chicago is attempting. It offers logs of 911 calls and has a searchable database, but the time and incidents aren’t complete.

Until Wednesday, Chicago offered a 90-day glimpse of crime in a mapping tool. The city added a yearlong database earlier in the summer.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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