Saturday, April 26, 2014

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT: City Errors Lead To Understated Crime Stats In Mainstream Media

Mainstream media outlets like the Chicago Tribune that rely on info from the city's online Data Portal to compile crime statistics and plot maps are churning out junk information lately. That's because huge chunks of crime data have gone missing from the Data Portal online database.

The Chicago Tribune's "Crime In Chicagoland" page for Lake View is
missing about 22% of the area's crime due to an error in the city-provided
database.
And nearly all of the mainstream media's fancy graphics and maps rely on the city's Data Portal.

The Tribune's "Crime in Chicagoland" Lake View page states that, between March 15 and April 14, there were 93 theft cases in Lakeview. In fact, there were 127.

The Trib site says there were 10 robberies. There were 13. Burglaries? Sites that rely on the Data Portal say 13. There were 26.

CWB was able to cross-check major crime reports by comparing Data Portal information with a separate city database called CLEARMap.

All together, the Data Portal is missing at least 22% of crimes reported in Lakeview between March 15 and April 14.

We also cross-checked the Austin neighborhood and found that a similar percentage of its crimes are missing from the Data Portal.

CWB discovered the problem during a routine audit of our robbery data for Wrigleyville and Boystown. Our in-house records showed that the neighborhoods had 29 robberies this year as of April 19. The city Data Portal only lists 21.

Nearly all of the missing incidents appeared on the Data Portal previously, but have since disappeared. Gone from the list are robberies from January 29, February 2, February 26, March 22, March 29, March 31, April 4, and April 5. As of this morning, none of those incidents' case numbers appear anywhere in the city data base, meaning that they are gone completely, not simply reclassified.

Given the police department's recent "issues" with statistics — a Chicago magazine report that detailed the apparent downgrading of homicide cases and an inspector general's finding that the department incorrectly counted assault victims — we wonder if there is any sense of urgency at the department to correct this black hole of crime statistics.
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