October 30, 2013

Missing from the mayoral debates about public safety-better reporting on crime data

Despite what some are labeling as a rather tame debate between mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio (D) and Joe Lhota (R), not much was said by either candidate that hasn't been already stated in previous debates or through the negative political ads. As a matter of opinion, both candidates leave listeners wondering what either have to offer to the residents of NYC other than the fact that they are not Bloomberg II.

One topic that has been fiercely debated has been public safety and crime, and the doomsday scenario of what will happen if the "wrong" candidate wins. Rather than trying to predict what will go wrong, I'd like to propose a modest suggestion of what can go right to combat crime-update the way crime stats are reported so that communities are better informed and make better decisions. 

By the time the next mayor will take office, it will have been nearly 20 years since CompStats was rolled out, the NYPD's major crimes reporting system initiated under then police commissioner Bill Bratton during the Guiliani administration. Seen as a way to provide communities with weekly updates on crimes happening in their precinct, CompStats is still a tightly-controlled database that has remained static over the years, presenting many more questions that deserve to be answered. Considering the technological leaps that have occurred over the last 20 years, today's method of reporting CompStats needs to be completely revamped if it is going to keep up with New Yorkers' demand for better information.

In the best scenario, CompStats should provide 'incident-based reporting' of crime in one large, publicly accessible database. Many police departments across the country such as the Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Utah state police to name a few, already report crime in this manner. This allows citizens, organizations, and other government agencies to access the data and make better decisions for allocating resources that can assist in reducing crime. Considering the long-standing resistance of  the NYPD in sharing this intimate a level of data with communities, I don't see this happening unless there is the political will and a major shake up at 1PP.

What can be almost as effective is the sharing of data in what precincts call 'sectors', or smaller chucks of the precincts, rather than reporting crime in a precinct as a whole. Immediately, one would be able to see where potential hotspots are for a particular crime. This would allow communities to work with their precincts, elected officials, businesses, schools, etc. in making informed decisions and to be a part of the solution, rather than being left in the dark and allowing precinct commanders to spin the information how ever they needed for a particular audience.

A plan is better than no plan, and we, particularly in the Bronx, need to demand more when it comes to dealing with our public safety. When big businesses can track and report one's shopping habits in an instant, its hard to believe that NYC can't do the same with something as important as crime. Let's make it a priority in the Bronx and in City Hall come January 2014.

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