Page One

Berkeley Police Re-Package Crime Data, By: Richard Brenneman

Friday March 17, 2006

People who turn to the Internet for information about Berkeley crimes will get both more and less information than they did before, but much more attractively packaged. 

In addition, the new mapping system will allow neighbors to get a quick look at events happening nearby, something the old system doesn’t offer. 

The Berkeley Police Department has launched Crime View Community, a graphically rich online system that lists incidents on an interactive map that can be used to search for events by type, location and date.  

It’s a system that’s catching on across the country. The San Francisco Police Department has just launched a version of the software and Concord also uses the program, along with Redondo Beach. 

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police uses Crime View—though a department spokesman said there were initial troubles getting it to work—along with cities in five other states. The Los Angeles Police Department has just gone online with a similar package from another developer. 

In Berkeley, the system is designed to replace the daily police bulletins, which list events throughout the city on a daily basis and which are not easily searched except by reading through the daily logs one by one. 

“It takes a lot of additional work to produce the bulletins,” said Berkeley Police spokesperson Officer Ed Galvan, “and the new site offers the same information.” 

But does it? 


Law and parsimony 

Compared with several other jurisdictions, the Berkeley Police Department has always been parsimonious about the information it doles out to the press, so a reporter decided to look at the new system and compare it to the one it’s designed to replace. 

Galvan said one reason the information is so scarce is that the department operates under strict guidelines from the city attorney’s office that starkly limit what information can be revealed. 

“We are not allowed to include dog bites and sex crimes in the bulletins,” he said, although a reporter cited instances when both had appeared in the bulletins. 

A Dec. 21 report of a rape by drugs in the vicinity of the intersection of Haste and Dana streets is listed in that day’s bulletin, though Galvan’s predecessor, Officer Joe Okies, refused to provide any information about it to the Daily Planet. 

Other rapes and incidents of child molestation have also been reported in the daily bulletins. 

Still, the new mapping system does show sex crimes, the result of a new decision by the city, Galvan said. 

A quick exploration revealed that the information provided by the two systems is often conflicting. 

In testing the new system, a reporter recently looked for incidents reported within a quarter-mile radius of the intersection of Ashby and Shattuck Avenues. 

The resulting map revealed that a rape was reported at 3:38 p.m. on Feb. 1 which occurred in the 1600 block of Russell Street. No such incident was reported in the daily bulletins, nor had the department issued any notice or bulletins to the public or press. 

Score one for Crime View Community. 

Another map search—for the quarter-mile around the intersection of 10th and Gilman streets—revealed yet another sex crime on the maps that never appeared in the daily bulletins. That incident occurred on Feb. 4, when police were summoned to the area at 9:41 a.m. to investigate an alleged child molestation. 

That day’s bulletin lists nothing between a tire slashing in the 1400 block of Allston Way at 9:16 a.m. and a report of a stolen Toyota in the 1800 block of Marin Avenue at 9:51. 


Missing links 

But other instances of crimes reported on the bulletins don’t show up on Crime View, such as the robbery reported at 7th Street and University Avenue on Feb. 7. Four other searches also found incidents listed in the bulletins that didn’t appear on the map. 

A report of shots fired near Roundtree’s restaurant at 2618 San Pablo Ave., at 1:32 a.m. on Feb. 5, is missing from the map altogether. The blotter reports the incident and offers a detailed description of the suspect. The Daily Planet reported on the incident, including the fact that officers found shell casings at the scene. 

And when the two systems do intersect, the daily bulletins produce more information of use to the public and press. 

A search through the daily reports revealed that many crimes weren’t finding their way to the maps, but one that did was case number 06997109, reported at 9:70 p.m. on Feb. 8. The location is listed as the 200 block of Dwight Way and the event category as a robbery, which is also the “Offense as Recorded.” 

And that’s it. 

But a check of the bulletin revealed considerably more. The crime is listed as a 211 (the California Penal Code section for robbery), and the address this time is specific. The victim is listed as Roxie Food Center, 2250 Dwight Way, and the stolen property is identified as cash. The bulletin also says the crime was committed by “threats of gun,” and it lists the officer who handled the call, Officer Hong. 

The same case number is provided, as in the sequence number—which is another way to access information on the incident. 

Attempts to locate six other crimes reported in the bulletins failed to turn up any map hits. One was case number 008435-06, a Feb. 15 grand theft report involving the taking of a laptop computer, a digital camera and a passport from a car near the corner of Forest and Piedmont Avenues. It’s simply not there on the map. 

Nor is a far more serious case, a car crash that resulted from a carjacking on the same date. The daily bulletin lists the event as being reported at 9:14 p.m. at Ashby Lumber Co., where the stolen car crashed into a fence. The report also lists the name and birthdate of a suspect who was arrested. 

As far as the map is concerned, the event didn’t happen. 

The maps also won’t list the non-injury and injury traffic accidents listed in the daily bulletins. “Otherwise, Sixth and University would just be a mass of symbols,” Galvan explained. 


Fewer crimes listed 

The maps also include much smaller range of incidents and offenses. 

Community Crime View is certainly more attractive that the bulletins, which are Adobe PDF documents done in all-capital letters. But attempts to print out the resulting map on two Daily Planet computers, one operating with Windows XP and the other a Macintosh, resulted in almost blank documents. 

Crime View also provides a way of offering crime density maps, graphic evidence of the concentration of specific types of crime in certain areas—something the bulletins didn’t provide. But once again, the maps didn’t print on the newspaper’s computers. 

Crime View is clearly superior in allowing residents to look at what’s happening in their neighborhoods, without inputting and crunching all the data from the bulletins, a long and laborious process, given that PDF files can’t be cut and pasted from the Internet in the same manner as regular text files. 

But for anyone looking for a meaningful picture of crime in Berkeley, a reporter would have to say the bulletins provide more meaningful factual data, while Crime Review, at this stage, must be rated as just another way the Internet can serve up pretty pictures. 

Galvan said the bulletins are labor intensive, and are used by only three reporters, this writer being one of them. 


Bottom line 

From a reporter’s perspective, the maps—while attractive and informative in certain ways—are a poor replacement for the bulletins. The latter tells what’s happening on a day-by-day basis, and in a far more inclusive way. 

From a resident’s perspective, the maps clearly offer a way to see what’s happening in the neighborhood, and to see how it compares with other neighborhoods. 

In the best of all possible worlds, the public would have both systems. 

Trip Albagdadi, marketing director and spokesperson for the software maker, said the problem isn’t the software package itself. 

“The application can be expanded or further customized to provide more information,” he said. And expanding the program to include citywide searches is an easy fix. 

Currently, it’s impossible to do a citywide search with the software, which was developed by the Omega Group in San Diego. At present, the widest search area permitted is a one-mile radius from a given location or a city council district. 

It’s an easy fix, said Albagdadi, and Galvan said it’s underway. 

To compare the two systems, go to the BPD website at police. There’s an icon for Community Crime View on the right hand side of the page and the bulletins are found by clicking on the third link posted under the heading “Frequently Used Resources.”?