What is Your City's Crime Data Transparency Score?

Crime data is among the most wanted data sets, but many cities don't bother. How does your city rank?

by / April 3, 2015
The above map ranks many of the major cities around the nation on a scale of 0 to 2, where 2 means the data is open, easily accessible and free; 1 means the data is open but incomplete, out-of-date or difficult to access; and 0 means the data is unavailable to the public without going through a vendor. Rankings were made by Spotcrime.com.

Editor's Note: On June 1, 2015, Spotcrime updated a new version of its list to reflect changes in several cities. A blog post details these changes, while a June 2 blog post details SpotCrime's take on the The White House Police Data Initiative, a federal program that seeks to channel data into improved policing.

Of all the government data released through today’s open data movement, crime data is among the most requested and most influential. The cities most committed to opening crime data work with their law enforcement arms to routinely collect data and post it to a government website or open data portal. And citizens want to know about the dangerous and nefarious things happening around them, which is why a crime data aggregator like SpotCrime.com gets 1 million hits each month.

Seattle is particularly interesting, said SpotCrime’s Brittany Suszan, because its 911 incident response data is open, easily accessible on its open data portal, and it’s among the city’s most accessed data sets. It’s a good example of what every city should be doing, she said, adding that the proof that it’s worthwhile is in the dozens of citizen-made tools, maps and charts that bring the data to life.

“It just goes to show that when agencies open the data, it’s information people want to see,” she said. “And we believe that crime data is a data set that people across the country want to see.”

SpotCrime works with more than 300 law enforcement agencies nationwide to maintain its crime mapping service. It is also denied access by municipalities that don’t make open data a priority. Spotcrime ranked many of the major cities around the nation on a scale of 0 to 2, where 2 means the data is open, easily accessible and free; 1 means the data is open but incomplete, out-of-date or difficult to access; and 0 means the data is unavailable to the public without going through a vendor.

Though open data is on an upswing overall, Suszan said some cities are moving in the wrong direction. Durham, N.C., was recently downgraded from a rank of 2 to a rank of 0 because the city’s open crime data system became antiquated, so rather than update or maintain the system, it hired a vendor that doesn’t grant the public open access to the data sets. It’s a common story, she said – the same thing happened in Charlotte, N.C.

Other cities, like Salt Lake City, jumped from a rank of 0 to a rank of 2 by asking their crime data vendor to also make copies of the data openly accessible. “If you’re sharing the information already with a sole vendor, our advice would be to open up that access,” Suszan said. “They should be able to ask the vendor to release a public file to make the information truly open or just open the access up to anyone and publish it to their police department website or post it to an open data website, but just make sure there’s no terms of use or restriction on the information.”

If data is open, people can share it, make new tools and discoveries that couldn’t have been made otherwise. “The more outlets there are for people to access this information," she said, "the more people that will be informed and in turn the safer that community will become."

SpotCrime ranked 57 U.S. cities, focused primarily on the nation’s largest population centers. The list is updated as cities make changes to their open data policies.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.