This year, my i2 project is a new crime data platform known as CallMap. CallMap is a new platform meant for students, parents, and the public to discover and visualize historical university crime data. Currently, crime data for campuses is often difficult or close to impossible to find. In the past, legislation has attempted to fix this.
In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, more commonly known as the Clery Act. Named after Jeanne Clery, a young woman who was tragically murdered in her college dorm room, this legislation intended to promote transparency and oversight when it came to campus safety at educational institutions. However, disclosure meant to empower the public has devolved into a chaotic mess of unhelpful resources and questionable compliance ultimately failing to provide true campus safety accountability.
Some of the many flaws with the Clery Act include:
- Unusable and inconsistent data formats
- Arduous request and data collection processes.
- Inaccurate and incorrect reporting
- Lack of public awareness
And its truly is a shame. It’s not too difficult to understand the amount of value having unhindered access to this crime data brings to the public. Thats why we’ve been working hard to bridge the gap between law and execution.
Our mission is to provide useful and valuable data the way the Clery Act intended. And the best part? It’s free. For everyone. Forever. We believe that anyone should have access to campus crime data without the hassles that come with contacting police departments and parsing complex formats. Don’t see your school on CallMap? Feel free to contribute your own parser. The CallMap visualization platform is completely open source.
The idea for CallMap interestingly enough came from my brother, a fourth-year data science undergrad at UC San Diego. A final project for a data analysis course he was taking involved him requesting UCSD Police Department’s daily crime log for the past 7 years. The problem was, he received the data on a flash drive containing almost 3 thousand pdf’s. He realized that because of its difficult-to-parse nature, crime data on campus was not being represented or analyzed in meaningful ways. After developing a complex algorithm able to scan, and parse, the over 70k records found in the UCSD data, we realized the true value that having this machine parsable data brought to not just data science researchers, but the general public. We decided to face the issue head-on by both building a platform that provides meaningful analysis to students and clean machine parsable data to researchers, while also addressing the root of the issue and working to build tools that allow police departments to comply with the Clery Act in meaningful ways for their communities.
There’s no doubt that we’re facing an uphill battle though. Police departments are often slow-moving and often reluctant to comply with our legal requests for data. Some departments are also better than others in terms of the data and amount of work CallMap has to put in, in order to scrape and visualize it. We’ve received everything from cleanly formatted csv’s to almost illegible hand-scanned paper copies. One police department has flat denied our request for data and told us that they are unwilling to provide us with online versions of the daily crime log, suggesting that we come in person to manually (they specified that no photos would be allowed) copy down crime data. We’re currently unsure if this behavior is technically still within compliance of the Clery Act but at a minimum, it’s a purposeful roadblock meant to disregard our right to crime data. We are looking into the possibility of a reporter from that campus’s newspaper to log that data for us. If anything, these challenges that we face demonstrate the real issue present within law enforcement on campuses in their reluctance to serve communities beyond what their governing laws require. We’re confident that we’ll be able to overcome these challenges in the pursuit of making public data, truly accessible.