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Flawed Map Says L.A.'s Crime Highest Next to Police HQ 123

Posted by timothy
from the statistics-are-coming-from-inside-the-station dept.
CNET briefly describes how a poorly chosen default behavior has led to an online crime map of Los Angeles (on a site designed at a cost of $362,000) that shows that "a location just a block from the department's new headquarters is the most crime-ridden place in the city." I wonder how often this sort of error would completely skew things like real-estate maps that attempt to show whether houses in a certain neighborhood are worth more than those in the one next door.
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Flawed Map Says L.A.'s Crime Highest Next to Police HQ

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  • Quick! (Score:5, Funny)

    by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@p ... t ['ay.' in gap]> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:33PM (#27468521) Homepage Journal
    Get those properties while they're cheap! Well, cheaper than they already were, considering the economy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by palegray.net (1195047)
      I think the mods missed the joke :).
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Divebus (860563)

      Are L.A. cops THAT crooked?

      • Re:Quick! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@p ... t ['ay.' in gap]> on Monday April 06, 2009 @01:20AM (#27472499) Homepage Journal
        Is that a rhetorical question? Can't speak for L.A., but my car suffered an attempted break-in via the windshield of all places while Sacramento cops sat in the parking lot of a La Quinta motel. I was traveling from Washington to Georgia, and got nothing more than a shrug and a "that sucks" from the police when I noticed the prised up seal on my windshield the next morning.
      • Don't get me started (Score:3, Informative)

        by conureman (748753)

        Amongst my several different experiences with the incompetence and criminality that is the LAPD, they were perusing my belongings one day whilst I was locked in the back of one of their cars. They got pretty excited about a crate of Thompson smg magazines &c. that I had. Once they determined that I hadn't committed any crimes they could prove and went away, imagine my surprise to discover that one box of .357 and two boxes of .45 caliber Black Talon ammunition had found a new, better qualified, owner. W

      • I don't know if they're actually crooked, but they do seem to take a purely reactive stance to crime. They don't really patrol, but when a call goes out you will see 5 cars all rushing in out at the same time.

  • by superyanthrax (835242) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:37PM (#27468561)
    More seriously, they should probably have had the program throw an error in case they could not find a certain location rather than putting the crime report at an arbitrary location. That would have caused the problem to be discovered earlier.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kjella (173770)

      More seriously, they should probably have had the program throw an error in case they could not find a certain location rather than putting the crime report at an arbitrary location. That would have caused the problem to be discovered earlier.

      There's pros and cons... What if you know the police district and want to give corrent district values, even there's no specific address? If not providing an address makes the crime "go away", there could be a tendency to have more "unlocalized" crime. Probably it was a case of conflicting requirements that said all crime was to represented and all crime had a location that nobody really thought through.

      I think your suggestion is unrealistic because sometimes there's no one good address. If you caught a spe

      • There's ways to balance that, depending on what your needs and visualization methods are. For example, if you know that a significant proportion of your crime reporting gives only district-level precision, not pinpointing to specific addresses, then it'd be more honest data presentation to just produce a colored-in map on a district-by-district level, and not attempt to give more detailed maps. If you do still want to give the more detailed maps, then at least average the un-localized things across the district instead of putting them all in one place.

        To use an actual (fairly simple) example that came up in my work recently: say you have some date figures, most of them with years but some only with decades. The wrong thing to do is to put the "1960s" datapoint at 1965, because then you get spurious spikes in the middle of every decade. Several more correct options are: just produce decade-by-decade visualizations, or else produce year-by-year visualizations, but assign a "1960s" datapoint as a 1/10-weight datapoint in each of 1960 through 1969.

        • by Nevyn (5505) *

          Several more correct options are: just produce decade-by-decade visualizations, or else produce year-by-year visualizations, but assign a "1960s" datapoint as a 1/10-weight datapoint in each of 1960 through 1969.

          Maybe more correct. Averaging sucks x3, what about if 1966 had 2x as many events as the other years ... what about if it only had those extra events for a reason (and so all events of that type were recorded with the year and not just the decade). I think really you have to either merge all the da

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Tuoqui (1091447)

          I'd like to think that it's more cops getting busted for their own abuses but I'm not that naive.

        • by belg4mit (152620) on Monday April 06, 2009 @02:06AM (#27472745) Homepage

          Choropleths are dangerous because most amateurs don't plot density.
          The eye naturally integrates over an area of uniform color, and so
          you must not create maps of raw magnitude if the mapped regions
          vary (significantly) in size. Otherwise, a small area of high-crime
          will appear less significant than a large area of moderate crime.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @06:12PM (#27469397) Homepage

      It is actually plausible that crime is higher by a PD. Consider that police operate effectively largely on the basis of force projection. Projecting force means they've got to spread out and, in part, create a perimeter within which they operate. The PD may have relied upon the force projection (ie the psychological influence the building would have) of the building, in part.

      Also consider that a PD is more of a hub; police officers are coming and going to their respective patrol areas, going and coming off of shift. They are most likely not thinking "work" - ie, find criminals - at this time.

      The PD may have been strategically placed where it was to dissuade crime in that specific area. I know that in the two largest cities in my state, the PDs are at, or near, the epicenter of low-income and crime (they're also just off the city centers). I lived near one of these PDs once, and it was indeed a higher crime area.

      • by Miseph (979059)

        Also, PDs tend to be located in commercial areas, surrounded by businesses and offices rather than homes. This means that on any given day there is far more money concentrated in those areas than residential ones, and where there's money, there's crime.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Martin Blank (154261)

        My parents used to cruise and street race in Southern California, and the preferred place to do it was about a block from the police station. The reason was simple: aside from shift changes (times for which were well known), there were no cops there. They were deployed far enough away that the racers only rarely saw a patrol car in the area, let alone on the racing street itself.

      • by drew (2081)

        Your points are valid - I once lived a few blocks a away from a brand new police center plopped into the heart of the Chicago projects (I lived on a college campus; the projects were across the street). However, the article specifically mentions that any time the computer couldn't identify the address - about 4% of the crimes entered into the system - it used a default location in the center of the region being mapped. I've had MapQuest do the same to me on more than one occasion.

        Now, that area may still

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Surely it's a crime to not code the crimes properly and in a manner the geocoder can handle it.

      Party most responsible for this 'crime' is the PD itself!

      In that light, every crime report that can't be geocoded would represent a crime committed in its own right!

      They could have also used the locations of the offices of the software developers (if they don't work at the HQ)

      So there is a crime of deceiving the public, and every improperly coded report is a separate criminal act...

  • Perhaps it is the new C.R.A.S.H HQ? [url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rampart_Scandal[/url]
  • Flawed? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:39PM (#27468575)

    Seeing how rogue so many police officers are, it might not necessarily be quite off the mark.

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:44PM (#27468611)

    It's not a legally recorded crime unless someone is caught and convicted. It's not surprising that these crime maps would show this result - the places that police officers are most likely to be, are the places where the most crime is "found".

    This is akin to saying that the places where the most vehicular crime occurs are where speed traps and automated traffic cameras are located.

    If you had a world with absolute and omnipresent law enforcement, and that society could somehow actually function, my guess is that the map would match a map of the average human traffic in a given location.

    Ryan Fenton

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jurily (900488)

      It's not surprising that these crime maps would show this result - the places that police officers are most likely to be, are the places where the most crime is "found".

      Are you implying police officers commit the most crimes?

      No joke, there are places [wikipedia.org] where this is believable.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by samriel (1456543)

        It's not surprising that these crime maps would show this result - the places that police officers are most likely to be, are the places where the most crime is "found".

        Are you implying police officers commit the most crimes?

        No joke, there are places [wikipedia.org] where this is believable.

        That's not what he's saying. He's saying that, in places without cops, no crime gets reported. No cops = no arrests, ergo no crime information about the area.

    • by maxume (22995)

      What? You are implying that crime is geographically average, which is a pretty big assumption. There are whole classes of crime that are geographically concentrated, and all sorts of crimes that are residential instead of commercial, and so forth.

    • by timothy (36799) Works for Slashdot

      "It's not a legally recorded crime unless someone is caught and convicted."

      On what do you base this? Maybe I'm just misinterpreting, but I don't see how that makes any sense at all. Never heard of the category "legally recorded crime" -- is this a term of art?

      I was mugged; I reported the crime. (No fun at all, but at least they didn't shoot me.)

      Or you get hurt by a hit-and-run driver, and you report it. Odds are low that the driver will be caught.

      Or someone you know is murdered, and the killer is unknown. N

      • by megaditto (982598)

        I was mugged; I reported the crime. (No fun at all, but at least they didn't shoot me.)

        Who "they," the muggers or the cops?

        • The cops. He did not have anyone money to pay the cops for filling the report.
        • by timothy (36799) Works for Slashdot

          Both cops and muggers neglected to shoot me! But only the muggers had a gun drawn that I saw. Though this is far from a universal experience, on this occasion at least the police were helpful and polite. And my landlady for my brief stay in that part of Philadelphia (Katia Ivanovic) was a far bigger incentive to move out of that neighborhood than being held on the ground with a gun at my neck anyhow; getting mugged (once, and literally, rather than on an ongoing basis figuratively) was nicer by comparison.

          t

    • by Virak (897071)

      Your theory is interesting and all, but (and I know this may be a shocking concept for a Slashdot user) the actual article says what actually happened, and it's not at all like that.

      In the past six months, that location experienced 1,380 crimes--4 percent of all crimes mapped--or roughly eight a day.

      The crimes were real, but a coding error with the system's geocoding--the process of converting addresses into map points--caused the crimes to be represented at a default location, according to a report Sunday

    • by westlake (615356)
      my guess is that the map would match a map of the average human traffic in a given location.

      Crimes have their own geography.

      Every large city has streets known for prostitution and drugs. Districts where abandoned homes and industrial sites attract arsonists and scavengers. The college campusus, parks and trails which become the stalking grounds for a rapist.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      I wonder if there's a doughnut/coffee shop or cafe around the corner from the PD that would attribute to this statistical anomaly.

    • by PPH (736903)

      "caught and convicted" or "reported"?

      The latter would make more sense, as some crimes go unsolved. But they're still crimes.
      The former would make the police/prosecutor's stats look good. 100% conviction rate of all crimes.

      Now, a map of crimes resulting in apprehension and conviction overlaid on the reported crimes would really be interesting. Along with a map of contributors to the police 'widows and orphans' funds.

  • Not Phoenix then? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:51PM (#27468671) Homepage Journal

    Wow, and after reading about the police in Phoenix [slashdot.org], I almost wondered whether the heading was wrong.

  • by TJamieson (218336) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:55PM (#27468711)

    For those who never played SimCity 4, it has a very strange bug where you would be notified about a "crime den" (implies high crime). However, when you went to the area being described, it was 99% of the time directly next to your police station.

    Fortunately, it only lasted as a blip -- no increased crime, but still rather goofy.

    • by p0tat03 (985078)

      I've gotten this with almost every city I've ever built in that game... I would have a poorly-covered area that would be crime-ridden. Then I'd slap down a police station right next to this "crime den", and 50 years later I'm still getting hassled about how dangerous the area is. Oops?

    • by Tink2000 (524407)

      Came in to add that everyone knows you have to build in 3x3 squares, and the PD always goes in the Ann B. Davis spot.

      As an offtopic to the offtopic, does anyone know which map in the SNES version of SimCity has the least amount of water?

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        #061

      • by vlm (69642)

        and the PD always goes in the Ann B. Davis spot

        You must be a tech writer, correct? That is the weirdest description I've ever read (and figured out).

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @04:58PM (#27468745) Homepage Journal
    All know that the highest crime locations always are in legislative government institutions, not in police stations (police choose to do their crimes far from there).

    Wonder if US highest crime is geolocated in Washington.
  • by jareth-0205 (525594) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:09PM (#27468857) Homepage

    I know maps like these are a problem in the UK for a different, systematic reason: Crimes detected at the police station after an arrest have their location marked as having taken place at that police station. eg if someone is arrested and taken back to the station, and when asked to empty their pockets drugs are discovered, then the location of that crime is in the police station building. Of course, this sort of thing will happen every day...

    Makes the crime map a bit interesting...

    • by owlnation (858981)
      It could also simply be that there is genuinely more crime next to Police Stations.

      Petty criminals will be picked up kept in the cells for the night and let out in the morning -- then they go and commit a local crime. "Crime" doesn't necessarily mean serious crime like murder or rape.
  • by creimer (824291) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:09PM (#27468859) Homepage
    Would you build a new police station in a crime-infested neighborhood or in a rich neighborhood that would complain about the criminals that police bring in?
  • Do you live in LA? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:11PM (#27468883) Homepage

    That's not a mistake. In LA, most of the HQ's *are* in high crime areas.

    Downtown, Van Nuys, etc...

    • by corsec67 (627446)

      Well, you would want to put a police department in the middle of a crime-ridden area, right?

    • by 4D6963 (933028)
      I misread your comment as "most of the HQs *are* high crime areas". Maybe crimes are actually committed inside the HQ?
  • by Chasmyr (1261462)
    The definition for rape on the listing seems a bit exclusive... "Rape: The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.". I understand the opposite sex may not have the same problem, but is that really a good reason to exclude them from the very definition of rape?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by claysdna (1519881)
      Men cannot be raped and blacks cannot be racists. It is written into the democratic partys national charter, accepted by all major news outlets, and become generally accepted politically correct behavior.
  • Here in Vancouver, Canada, one of the most drug-crime infested neighbourhoods *is* a block from the police station:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downtown_Eastside [wikipedia.org]
    • by TheSync (5291)

      Here in Vancouver, Canada, one of the most drug-crime infested neighbourhoods

      But in Vancouver, doesn't "drug-crime infested" mean "someone got high, parked their car in the wrong place, and got a parking ticket"?

  • There you have it - cops are the worst criminals... we told you for years but you didn't want to believe us... where's my tinfoil hat?
  • Er... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mutube (981006) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:35PM (#27469087) Homepage

    Isn't it a good thing that the police station is close to an area of high crime? Would we rather they were really far away?

    • Isn't it a good thing that the police station is close to an area of high crime?

      Yeah it might be a good thing if there really were more crime there. It was a glitch due to default settings when there was no address specified in a report that made it falsely appear that there was a high crime rate a block from the station.

  • Why is it surprising that the most crime in the city occurred in their headquarters? The only confusing thing is why they actually REPORTED it!?! ;)

  • Oddly enough, I was just looking at property in Compton. I think it'd be interesting to live there but then again $350,000+ for a place with bars on all the windows doesn't exactly seem appealing.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You're not supposed to live there, you're supposed to live on the nice side of town (you know, in some other city.) Only slumlords and those in a cycle of oppression want to own homes there.

      • The prices should reflect that then. :P

        I don't think I'd seriously consider living there but it would be one of the few places where I wouldn't look out of place with a machine gun.
  • At least (Score:3, Funny)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:37PM (#27469113)
    Well, at least they're not too far off.
  • It's hard to imagine a software glitch causing this exact behavior. And what's the problem with having Po-po HQ in a high crime area? Saves on commuting, at the very least.

    AT least two police stations in my city are right in the heart of crime areas. But the rest are in less crimey areas. What's the problem?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by russotto (537200)

      It's hard to imagine a software glitch causing this exact behavior.

      Ever enter an address into an on-line mapping program that it didn't recognize? They'll often show a map at a default location at the center of the zip code you entered. Same idea here.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm an ArcGIS user who spends time coding geographically referenced data. On occasion, I process traffic crash locations. I don't work work for LA, and have no special knowledge of their process. But from my experience...

    It is quite common to only get a 90 to 95 percent match to a location with a fully automated system. Spelling errors, wrong street prefixes (N instead of S), wrong zip codes, wrong cities, etc. are all things that will cause a bad location.

    For the 5 to 10 percent that fall out, we have a ro

    • by Sanglant (538731)
      With the cluster being on city hall looks like either the geocoder was misconfigured or the dataset was light a few columns for a run or two. With a cascading geocoder, and City/State as the only good data, it'd drop them all on city hall. They've the cities own addressing layer and E911 data to use for incident points so I'd be doubtful about it being a garbage in/out issue. You think they would've passed it through a filter first to just return street_address and address_point results though if they're
  • $362,000 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @05:57PM (#27469303)
    Is this a reasonable price for what seems to be an interface between google maps and the dept's crime database? Somehow it seems to me that a motivated person could do the basic design and coding in a few days. Then add in user feedback, layout redesigns ,etc., but still, should it really take even a couple of months for one person? As a crude guestimate, I would probably feel a little greedy or overly conservative bidding 6 months, of course I don't know the spec or what's really involved. What am I missing that seems to imply two person-years or more of work?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BikeHelmet (1437881)

      It has to meet strict security guidelines and undergo expensive independent security audits before it's approved for use?

    • by tajmahall (997415)
      On top of this, it doesn't seem to be all that well done. When I use the map it's inconsistent about loading all data points when there are a lot of them. Put it on a 5 mile radius and search 7 days, then drag the map around a bit. A few more crimes usually appear.
      • by belg4mit (152620)

        Isn't that a feature of google maps? I seem to recall this behavior on
        other 3rd party overlays, and even occasionally in google maps itself.

    • It's what happens when local, state, and Fed governments spends someone else's money (the taxpayers'). They overpay for stuff, buy stuff they don't always need, and waste billions and billions of our money nationwide, every year. After all, it's not like the government is spending its own money -- why would they lose any sleep over it?

      You can either whine about it (which does nothing), fight the system (here's a hint -- you'll lose) or line up and try to get your little piece of the action. Sorry to soun

    • I imagine the project process load for requirements capture and review probably exceeds the technical work by at least a factor of two. Working the process to get to an agreed implementation approach likely takes longer than the technical work. Contract management and project management also probably exceed the technical budget. That's just a fact of life dealing with selling work to a government.

  • No Doubt (Score:3, Informative)

    by Joebert (946227) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @06:22PM (#27469471) Homepage
    I'd have no reason to doubt it. When I lived in Shalimar Florida someone robbed the bank that's right across the street from the police department with a shotgun and weren't caught for as long as I lived there.
  • Actually,,, (Score:4, Funny)

    by fireheadca (853580) on Sunday April 05, 2009 @06:26PM (#27469505)

    The map is accurate for the most part, it's just a block off.

  • ...if the complaints are "failure to pay for donuts".
  • They took a lesson from the French.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Dien_Bien_Phu [wikipedia.org]
    "This would effectively cut off Viet Minh soldiers fighting in Laos and force them to withdraw. "It was an attempt to interdict the
    enemy's rear area, to stop the flow of supplies and reinforcements, to establish a redoubt in the enemy's rear and disrupt his lines""
    Note to US planners, read some history.
    • by sjames (1099)

      he's got a terrible lion up his end, so there's an advantage to an enema at once...Edmund Blackadder

  • Baltimore (Score:4, Interesting)

    by N3Bruce (154308) <n3lsy@co[ ]st.net ['mca' in gap]> on Sunday April 05, 2009 @07:20PM (#27469947) Journal

    Here in the Land of Pleasant Living (and also the setting for Homicide and The Wire), Baltimore's main Police HQ is set between President, Fayette, Gay, and Baltimore Streets. For those of you who aren't familiar with the area, the corner of Gay and Baltimore Street is one end of the city's infamous and long standing red light district, and Police HQ backs up to the heart of "The Block". One side of Baltimore Street are strip clubs and streetwalkers, along with the ever-present junkies, pickpockets, and pimps. The other side is the back of Police HQ, and parking is reserved for squad cars of Baltimore's Finest bringing in Baltimore's Worst at all hours of the day and night.

  • Grand Theft Auto is not a crime. Its just grand larceny where the object stolen was a car. "Car/Auto Theft" would be accurate. Its just sad to see a $362K project not be able to even get that correct. I wish that term would stop being repeated as an actual crime. Thanks big media its just a video game.
  • This story might not be as surprising as it first seems.

    Anyone who has been to Vancouver can tell you that by far the most crime-ridden part of the city - we are talking Main St. & Hastings - surrounds the police station and has done so for time immemorial.

    Admittedly Main & Hastings is not the most dangerous area since the crime we are talking about is mainly drugs and prostitution. And I believe they have recently moved the central offices of the station to a new location (near Broadway?).

  • by skathe (1504519)

    Aren't the vast majority of traffic accidents that people get into very near their home?

    Basically, police are around the police station more than they're far away from it. They start their shift there and end their shift there. It's the hub of activity for police. So of course the high crime areas are going to appear as if they're near the police station. "Low hanging fruit" is the term for this I think. Why drive miles away from "home base" to make arrests when there's stuff going on right in your fro

  • LAPD (Score:3, Funny)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday April 06, 2009 @01:43AM (#27472621) Homepage Journal

    Is it because they are counting the staff at the LAPD as criminals?

  • Fat ass cops can't make it much farther than a block, so of course most of the (known) crime is less than a block away!!

  • Well when I was visiting Vancouver I decided to pay a visit to the police museum. Ironically I walked down a street full of druggies and day time hookers, which was about 300 yards from the main police station. Maybe its keeping your friends close and your enemies closer ;)
  • It seems to me that having a police-station in certain areas might in-fact increase certain types of crime.

    For example, perp is picked up, brought back to station, questioned, released, etc.

    Upon exiting the station, he realizes he needs a ride home, or a fix, or whatever. So he wanders a few blocks down and steals a car, robs a bank, or buys some drugs, etc.

  • Kind of like bank robber Willy Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, "Because that's where the money is."

    Most bank robberies occur near banks, so most crime should happen near police stations.

  • I grew up in Wasilla, AK. The moment we got our own local police force (instead of relying on the State Troopers), our crime rate skyrocketed--because now we had someone to report all the petty stuff to. So this makes perfect sense, if you've got a substation close, it's easy to walk in and report something. Otherwise you just might not bother with a small crime.

The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

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