New and improved Crimespotting

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar by now with the extremely cool website Oakland Crimespotting, which provides attractive, user-friendly, and fast loading incident maps, offering Oakland residents a visual picture of what kind of crime is being reported in their neighborhoods.

I’m particularly grateful to Tom Carden, Eric Rodenbeck, and Michal Migurski of Stamen Design for their work in creating this, since the City of Oakland, for whatever reason, simply cannot seem to manage to produce a remotely usable incident map. CrimeWatch, in addition to being just hideously ugly, is painfully slow, requires an obscene number of steps to get any information, and in general, is just like, the complete opposite of a user-friendly or helpful product.

Ick. Anyway, Crimespotting just got a whole lot cooler, with the addition of two new features. First, you can now view crime maps going back all the way to mid-2007, when the site launched. And you can now get crime data, by beat, in spreadsheet form, going back all that time. Which is just so, so, incredibly cool. Every so often, somebody asks me about getting recent historical crime numbers for their neighborhood or whatever, and I hate how I can never give them a good answer, just offer them a giant zip file of a zillion old weekly crimes reported by beat files and tell them they can sort it out if they really, really want to. So this is just super.

But wait! That’s not all. There’s another, even cooler feature, where you can view incidents by when they happened – either in hours of your choosing, or by a few already set options: day and night, morning and evening commute, or police shift.

Isn’t is great? Anyway, head over to Crimespotting and play around with their new features. And if you like them, maybe leave a little thank you note on their blog.

32 thoughts on “New and improved Crimespotting

  1. Art

    Excellent. And on that note—it is so, SO time for OPD to drop funding for CrimeWatch, which as V notes is awful on so many levels. I can’t believe we’re still funding that technology as we talk about cutting officers….it’s time for an MOU that says OPD will provide data to Crimespotting in a timely manner so that Crimespotting can do its incredible thing effectively and efficiently. Maybe OPD can even commit some funds to help offset costs, but at a minimum, we should get rid of the duplicative efforts going on here.

  2. Max Allstadt

    What, you don’t like that the city’s icon for simple assault is a boxing glove? Have you sense of humor? I want to see their icon for indecent exposure!

  3. Andy K

    With so many creative people in Oakland producing great things like this, why, oh why is our City Govt. so pathetic.

  4. VivekB

    Great work for CrimeSpotting.

    Re:CrimeWatch – we can’t turn that off; ever since OPD stopped producing the weekly statistics in Excel, that’s the only mechanism I have for getting incident data in ‘raw’ form for the crime trends analysis that I produce on a monthly basis for all the various beats & areas. Basically, I look at all the data, and come up with a year-over-year/beat-by-beat/etc comparison of how crime is doing. The crimespotting excel file is formatted as one gigantically long cell, and you can’t easily parse it into it’s individual components (ie, which crime, date, etc). Well, i can’t, as i’m not really that techie.

    Pictures are great, but if you see 9 red dots on the page, it’s hard to come up with an opinion about that. Were there 4 dots last year/month, meaning crime has doubled, or were there 18, and crime has been cut in half?

    Again, i love crimespotting, it’s great, but it can’t take the place of getting raw data.

  5. VivekB

    hmmm. that’s a different url than i was looking at before. I still don’t know how to use it, but i’ll email the info alias, explain what i’m doing, and see if they can give me some help.

    thanks much!

  6. Ken O

    Just FYI, everyone probably already knows this who cares, but OPD’s web listings of who the current PSO and NSC staff are for each beat is outdated and wrong. Just call the numbers on their page and you’ll be told the correct info.


    Current PSO: Marcus Campos
    Current NSC: Michael Sze
    Monthly NSPC Meeting: 2nd Wednesdays, 6pm, City Hall Hearing Room 3

  7. Born in Oakland

    I had a talented professional techie neighbor who offered to help OPD with their site when it first came up and she was politely ignored and definitely not encouraged to pursue her offer. Wonder what she could have done with the site?

  8. Michal Migurski

    Ken O, how annoying. It will take about 50 phone calls to set that information straight and get it onto the Crimespotting beat pages. If folks are willing to help with that, please send the information to and I’ll get it onto the site.

  9. Ken O

    Michal, are you starting a shadow government?

    In government, people don’t work hard because there’s NO FINANCIAL INCENTIVE. No stock options. No money. Money is all allocated politically. And for quite some time, government workers were probably making LESS than the private sector.

    Now that the “free market’s invisible hand” is dealing a blow to the private sector, here come private worker complainers.

    In other countries, BRIBES move local officials. That and family ties, business ties, community interest. Are all Oakland employees required to LIVE IN OAKALND?

    Some cities have this requirement. It’s greener, perhaps tribal, and maybe improves service and sense of duty, communitas.

    But in other ways, there are probably many great people workign for the city who have their HANDS TIED. People with good ideas that get shot down by lazy bosses, political appointees, people used to the “old way” of doing things. That would seem odd–people who are difficult to fire are not being risk takers?

    Maybe they don’t want to risk their pensions for any reason.

    Maybe they see their non-fireable co-workers being lazy/slow and see no reason to try harder.

    This is a morale problem.

    How are city employees incentivized to provide good service?

    Will they get laid off if they do a piss poor job? From anecdotes on this blog, it sounds like no, there are losers that good managers can’t fire. Starting at the very top and trickling all the way down.

    Are hard workers rewarded? In what way? Doing good is its own reward, but some form of sufficient, not-over-the-top bonus for actual performance can help.

    Perhaps peer review? Review of one’s manager, in addition to getting a 6-mo/annual review by your boss on things to work on?

    I realize I’ve ranged all over the place here, just venting.

    I am tired of unenthusiastic city workers though. Many of them are fat from too much desk work, many look bored, and maybe they are as demoralized as us citizen activists/advocates from the city hall political printer jam.

    Because of ever-rising energy/resource prices, rising bond yields, and thus lack of capital to work with, I doubt the city will ever be able to give its workers financial raises again. Maybe there are intangibles to explore, here.

  10. Ken O

    I’m sure many city workers are tired of dealing with us dumb, demanding, self-righteous or petulant citizenry as well.

    Maybe, just maybe, Oakland is too big to govern properly. Just like State of California. Just like the United States.

    Maybe the city bureaucracy is too top-heavy. Is it? How many Oakland city staff earn more than $100,000 per year? For what? Do we have too many chiefs? Non-profits often do serious work for far less money than the private sector or public sector.

    Is Oakland too big to handle? Should the city split into west oaktown, central oaktown and east oaktown? Or even smaller units?

    At some point, when leadership is closer to the ground, it is more responsive.

    Maybe political power and structures in Oakland need to be decentralized to super-neighborhoods.

    And if there isn’t enough money then as now, then the problem may be that there isn’t enough economic activity to justify having such a large population in this “city.” (cue: Detroit)

    So people will move back to the country, like the industrial revolution in reverse.

  11. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    Beat 1X is wrong on all 3 counts, so I’ll take some time today to get the info. Ironically, I went to the City Directory – which is normally pretty good – but there was no info for Annie Sloan other than giving her title. No phone or email. Actually, I just searched on several names and none had phone or email info… bizarre.

    Anyway, as soon as I have the other info, I’ll be emailing Thanks for this, Michael!


  12. David Sasaki

    It’s also a great way to find out where the prostitutes hang … or so I’ve heard.

    But really, as cool as Crimespotting is in terms of visualizing open data (props Michal), why do we all get so excited about visualizing crime when there are so few initiatives out there to visualize the good that is happening all around Oakland? Or to meet the information needs of all of Oakland’s neighborhoods? Why does Crimespotting Oakland get so much love but projects like The Organic City and Youth Radio, which set out to tell positive stories about Oakland, get ignored?

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, since Organic City is a total failure that never had any stories, and the majority of the work produced by Youth Radio has nothing to do Oakland, why would we talk about them? People praise Crimespotting because it is a useful product that provides something people want.

  14. David Sasaki

    You’re tripping. The least you could do is pay a visit to Youth Radio and see what they do and what they produce.

    The Organic City has over 50 stories and it failed because it didn’t attract enough readers. After the police shooting, Youth Radio had the only content I was able to find from the area where the shooting actually took place.

    If you really want “a better Oakland” then you need to stop with the constant complaining and get to know some of the other groups in the city who are trying to make things better. Complaining – and highlighting the complaints of others – doesn’t lead to change.

  15. Mike

    What I think is interesting is the lack of crimes in neighborhoods like Maxwell Park. Maybe if the people in the high crime areas worked with the police and each other their quality of life might improve.

  16. V Smoothe Post author

    Each to their own, I guess. Personally, I just don’t find amateur creative non-fiction particularly compelling. Judging from the lack of interest in Organic City, it doesn’t seem like many other people do either.

  17. David

    What I think is even more interesting is the lack of crimes in Oakland near the SL border, like between 98th and 109th and Bancroft & Int’l. Wonder if it benefits a little from the SL police. Because those hoods sure ain’t otherwise that different from the hellholes in the 70′s and 80′s between Mac and Int’l.

  18. livegreen

    David, Actually I think their proximity to SL (for the reasons you mention) HAS helped those neighborhoods stay different. I’ve driven through some of those streets and they resemble San Leandro more than Oakland, with working class and middle class home-owners (all races, but more Af-Am on the Oakland side) where the houses are well taken care of. As you drive further and further away from SL, they gradually deteriorate.

    A hills realtor told me that neighborhood is not well known, but safe and a good place to live.

    Drive by some time. Start on E.14ht in SL, go a block or a few blocks into Oakland and make a right. Drive around, you’ll see what I mean. Then go a few blocks further and it gradually deteriorates (some blocks will have a mixture of both before the final transition…).

  19. Mike

    I’m sure the SL Police helps but I think the development around Durant Square makes a bit of a difference, also. Pride of ownership.

    But you can sure see the difference once you get to 98th, immediate downturn

  20. gem s

    David Sasaki: “Why does Crimespotting Oakland get so much love but projects like The Organic City and Youth Radio, which set out to tell positive stories about Oakland, get ignored?”

    Crimespotting is a utility, and it gets props because it is an easy to use, easy to understand tool. Once it is built, it doesn’t require any input other than on a very basic, data driven level Organic City on the other hand, requires a lot of creative input since it is entirely content driven, as does Youth Radio. Those websites aren’t tools in and of themselves, they are platforms for expression. It doesn’t make any sense at all to make these sorts of comparisons because they are entirely different. Crimespotting isn’t competing with Organic City or Youth Radio.

    “Or to meet the information needs of all of Oakland’s neighborhoods?”

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say here. Mike began Crimespotting as a personal project because what the City of Oakland provided was total junk. So the impetus was entirely grass-roots. I’m not sure if you’re saying that people in the poorer parts of Oakland don’t care about crime reports or what- that seems like a strange generalization to make anyway. IMO, the information needs of Oakland citizens starts with access, like computers in libraries, and libraries that are open. something that lots of people are working to make reality. Beyond that “meeting the information needs of all of Oakland citizens” is incredibly vague. I wouldn’t expect one site with one extremely specific purpose to meet everyone’s needs. However any other needs aren’t going to be met either if they aren’t ever articulated.

  21. VivekB

    I know the PSOs for 11x/12x/12y/13x/13y, they all come to the 12Y/13X NCPC meetings, will send to you shortly. They’re all generally awesome officers & people, makes me happy they’re on the good side.

  22. ann

    Thank goodness for smart neighbors!

    I recently noticed an increase in activity in my hood 22X (Dimond) so I did a 90 day search on Crimewatch. Did you know we’ve had 13 murders in the Dimond this year. I called Quan’s office and got Richard who said sounds “fishy” but not his department. He transferred me to another staffer said it’s probably a data error but he’d have to go through stacks of written reports to find the actual number and he had a caller on another line.

    Last I checked they hadn’t fixed the site, maybe the violent crime reduction is just a lost folder in someone’s drawer.

    Good thing we’ve got someone smart looking at this.


  23. ann

    Thank Goodness!

    I recently noticed an increase in activity in my hood 22X (Dimond) so I did a 90 day search on Crimewatch. Did you know we’ve had 13 murders in the Dimond this year. I called Quan’s office and got Richard who said sounds “fishy” but not his department. He transferred me to another staffer said it’s probably a data error but he’d have to go through stacks of written reports to find the actual number and he had a caller on another line.

    Last I checked they hadn’t fixed the site, maybe the violent crime reduction is just a lost folder in someone’s drawer.

    Good thing we’ve got someone smart looking at this.


  24. Tony

    Within last couple of months, my 88 year old grandpa was hit in the face and robbed by 3 young black men in the Lake Merrit area. Then my aunt’s purse was snatched by another young black man. This is in addition to the other 3 incidents that’s occurred in the same area over the last several years. Oakland’s a fucked up place to live. Why can’t you folks instill some better values in your young ones? I know that in my family, that kind of shit would never fly.

  25. MayB/JuanC

    Tony, who are you speaking to when you say “you folks”? Are you not an Oaklnad resident? And you provided the race of the perpetrators but not the race of the victims. What race are they?

  26. VivekB

    FYI, indeed, I was wrong, Michael showed me how to use their http API to pull down lots of data. I just pulled down 1/1/08->5/30/09 for an analysis. If you’re interested, I sent him the 2005 & 2007 data to load into their site I have as their data doesn’t start until mid-2007, but it’s not totally apples & oranges. My data is from OPD, which is strictly crime reports, while theirs is from the City of Oakland’s IT dept, which includes ‘incidents’ (aka, calls for service that may not result in a crime report).

    I’ll do an analysis shortly to see how much higher the #s are with incidents, my quick view seemed to be anywhere from 1% to 15% based on factors i haven’t yet determined yet.

    Big thanks to CrimeSpotting and Michael for providing this service – it allowed me to resume my monthly crime analysis and compare to 2008, and is very much appreciated.