The Massive Blind Spot in the NYPD’s New Crime Visualization Map


The NYPD released a spiffy new interactive crime map on Sunday. Enter an address, any address, and the map will tell you the precise location and nature of every crime that has occurred in the surrounding area as far back as January 2012. You can filter by type of crime to identify the neighborhoods that are most frequently burglarized, the streets where rapes most commonly occur, and the corner that has seen the most murders.

It’s a tool, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly said in a press release trumpeting the map, that will help New Yorkers’ understand where they are most at risk. “This administration has relied on data to drive its crime fighting, and this map helps enhance New Yorkers’ and researchers’ understanding of where felony and violent crime persists,” Kelly said.

There is a giant, gaping blind spot in the data visualization, though. Filter for murder, and the map will show the streets where New Yorkers have, for example, been shot, or stabbed, or strangled in the last two years. If a New Yorker died after being hit by a car rather than a stray bullet, though, that person’s death won’t be counted.

In the same press release that announced the map on Sunday, Kelly said, “New York City is safer than ever, with homicides on pace this year to fall below recent historic lows.” That’s true.

What Kelly didn’t mention is that this year, for the first time ever, traffic fatalities are on pace to claim the lives of more New Yorkers than murders, and the NYPD’s map doesn’t include information about where you are at the greatest risk of being killed by a car.

It’s not exactly a surprising omission, however, for a police commissioner who has responded to traffic fatalities with, essentially, a shrug. Asked about his department’s record on at in October, Kelly responded, “We do have a daytime population that’s over 10 million people. You’re going to have a lot of traffic and you’re going to have accidents.”

Investigating those accidents, he added, “takes in-depth investigation and examination, it takes witnesses, it’s much more complex than you might think.”

Information about the numbers of traffic fatalities — and in particular hit and runs — have been notoriously difficult to pry from the NYPD. It has been so difficult to get information that city council member Leroy Comrie has introduced a bill that would require the NYPD to make crash data available on its website, and require the NYPD to brief the city council once every two years on the fatal and near-fatal hit and runs that took place in each precinct.

Last week, NYPD representatives failed to even show up to a hearing on the bill, which is expected to pass before the end of the year.