When Bradley Tech, a troubled Milwaukee public high school, had to be locked down and receive massive police support to stop a fight involving gang members and kids from other schools, the most important issue is not about the school, the 18 arrests, the gangs, the fight, or the police response. It's about having no public information about the incident, which occurred on Nov. 30, until a statement was dragged out of the police department a week later, as rumors and questioned reached the press and political leaders.
Similar patterns of significant crimes that only come to light weeks after the fact have occurred since the Milwaukee Police Department's encrypted radio system, OpenSky, went into full production use early in 2010. The problem is that, post-OpenSky, MPD has left no way for the media or anyone else to follow what squads are doing, within reasonable parameters, as used to be the case. Going from police scanners to nearly nothing was a major disruption to public information access and crucial information flows in and outside of the city government.
Now, when a major incident fails to attract immediate media notice and no MPD statement is forthcoming, victims, witnesses or second and third-hand sources tend to generate inquiries and exposes a week or two later, when the media and politicians get involved. This has become a repetitive and counterproductive cycle for the entire metropolitan community.
There are technological solutions possible, but none have been proposed until today, when MPD suggested that the 911 dispatch webpage with brief call type summaries on the MPD website is all the press needs. Is it really MPD's position that this is all the press needs?
In other words, does a line of text that says "fight" with a location given like "4th and Bruce" do the job? This line of text appears only for a brief period of time and is not retrievable later. It appears somewhere within 5 screens of similar summaries. Is this really adequate public notice? Are journalists supposed to refresh their browsers all day watching these pages, instead of expecting a statement from MPS or MPD when many squads are called to stop a fight in a school and make arrests? On numerous occasions, the entire dispatch page has gone offline without warning, sometimes over long holiday weekends.
MPD claims that "All dispatched calls for police service are posted, with a 30-minute delay, on the Milwaukee Police Department Website under the Dispatched Calls for Police Service Tab." In fact the dispatch page itself actually says the calls are those made by 911 dispatch operators and the delay is 30-90 minutes. Previously it has been stated by MPD that some calls may be withheld longer in special cases, and 911 dispatch operators are not the only source of calls for service. Squads can be sent to locations by non-emergency operators and probably other channels, so it's unclear what is and is not being shown.
In the specific case of Bradley Tech on the 30th, was a 911 call made? Was a 911 call made that resulted in a dispatch? If a code red or lockdown is issued by a school, does this involve dispatch logs that go on the MPD website?
A national crime-mapping website, SpotCrime.com, harvests all data it is able to collect from MPD's dispatch page and has no entries pertaining to Bradley Tech for the 30th. Usually it is a reliable, permanent record of what has been posted by MPD, but even it is a very limited solution to the void of timely information about police activity.
This was first posted at the RJI News Collaboratory.Unfortunately, when I first asked these questions (in shorter form) on MPD's Facebook page, they were deleted. The situation has reached a point where I think there is motivation now to independently create applications to provide the data and accessibility needed to really function in the public interest. I am interested in hearing from anyone who is aware of similar situations in other cities, and how they were dealt with.
In the FY 2011 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Appropriations Requests, there is a $1 Million request for the Major
Cities Chiefs of Police Association which would be used to purchase
services from CrimeReports.com.
CrimeReports.com is a private company that makes contracts with
municipal police forces to provide their crime data to the public on
the CrimeReports.com website--but according to the PDs' specifiations.
In the process, the public information that the source crime data is
may seem to become more accessible, but this is not the case.
CrimeReports is contending in a current federal case that public crime
data becomes CrimeReports' own proprietary product in the form
provided on CrimeReports.com. (See links below and The Citizen Media
Law Project's article, "Public Engines to World: Look, But Don't Touch
the Crime Data"
In this view it would be technically illegal for someone to duplicate
or republish material from CrimeReports.com by other means, which many
PDs may use as their sole or primary means of providing public access
to crime data. (It is not access to data, it is access to a limited
representation of some data.) This is not only bad for public and
media oversight, it is bad for technologists who wish to tap public
data for research and applications.
From the appropriations document:
Project: The National Crime Map Expansion
Purpose: The National Crime Map currently includes more than 800 law
enforcement agencies across the country; its aim to make incident
level crime data available to the general public at the neighborhood
level within 24 hours of occurrence.
Location: Draper, Utah
Recipient of Funds: Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association
Explanation/Justification: Very few members of the public have ready
access to street level crime information on a timely basis. This
funding will allow any law enforcement agency in the United States to
connect to the existing National Crime Map, CrimeReports.com.
Currently, more than 800 agencies have already joined at an average
total cost of $110 per month. Through this funding, CrimeReports.com
will be able to expand the map and drop the cost of integrating and
deploying the system to roughly $20/month per agency, regardless of
size, population served, or members of the community served. In
contrast, cities that build their own portals spend $50,000 - $100,000
per agency to implement local crime maps.
James Charlesworth at Neboweb in Atlanta, GA built this site for people living in Atlanta. The site is a great step towards open information in the area and will help locals identify crime history by neighborhood. The site is:
The MetLife Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation are partnering for the eighth year to recognize, sustain, and share the work of innovative partnerships between community groups and police that promote neighborhood safety and revitalization.
Awardees will receive cash grants ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 each. Case studies about award-winning partnerships will be disseminated throughout the community development and law enforcement industries. Previous winners have used award money to pay for special patrols, trainings, and equipment for officers.
Grants will be awarded in two categories. Neighborhood Revitalization Awards (six grants of $15,000 to $25,000 each) celebrate exemplary collaboration between community groups and police that result in crime reduction as well as economic development activity, including real estate development, business attraction, and job growth. Special Strategy Awards (six awards of $15,000 each) will be given to community and police partners that have achieved significant accomplishments in applied technology, aesthetics and greenspace improvement, diversity, inclusion and integration, drug market disruption, gang prevention and youth safety, or seniors and safety.
Further information and a link to the full Request for Proposals is available at the LISC Web site.