TagFOIA

Mapping guns in your town: is that okay?

This screenshot shows the pistol permit holders in Westchester County, New York. The highest density of permit holders appears to be at the border with Bronx County, also known as the northern edge of New York City. 

An ABC News story I read through the Yahoo! News website tells about The Journal News, covering Westchester (Yonkers, New Rochelle) and Rockland (New City, Pomona) counties in New York, posting the names and addresses, on a map, of gun permit owners. The map contains:

…the addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Each dot represents an individual permit holder licensed to own a handgun — a pistol or revolver. The data does not include owners of long guns — rifles or shotguns — which can be purchased without a permit. Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so. [Notice that some dots are outside the county.]

This article is interesting to me for two reasons:

1. The article has hyperlinks to the (alleged?) Facebook profiles of two people who commented on The Journal News’s website. I predict this will only become more common. I don’t have a Facebook profile to link to.

2. The rationale to make a map seems reasonable: so people know where there are potentially guns in their neighborhood. It seems reasonable that people want to know where there are potential sources of danger and harm near them.

The names and addresses were obtained through “routine” (their words, not mine, but it is pretty routine and normal) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The quantity and types of guns are not considered to be public record, although this may not be true, according to the ABC News article.

Dumke fighting the open data fight for Chicagoans

Dan O’Neil mails a FOIA request to Chicago’s 311 service in 2007. Now, you can email most places (or fax!). 

I like to say that for every dataset a government agency proactively publishes, there’s one fewer FOIA* request it has to respond to.

City officials say they get so many FOIA requests that responding to them all has become a serious resource drain. But this is one of the reasons why—we don’t have any other way to get information about our government.

As a result, I will be adding to their workload and submitting another FOIA request. I don’t mind saying this publicly since it won’t be a secret anyway. That’s because the Emanuel administration has resumed Daley’s old habit of posting FOIA requests online. It’s also kept up Daley’s habit of not posting any information showing how responsive the city is.

That’s Chicago Reader author Mick Dumke talking about his troubles obtaining some data from the Chicago Department of Human Resources. Read the entire article, where he also gives a pretty good description of the “Chicago FOIA way”, the process for getting information in Mayor Emanuel’s transparent administration.

Note: I submit a FOIA request to some agency at least once a month. My most frequent FOIA requests go to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). I also query the Chicago Police Department, and the Department of Administrative Hearings. Derek Eder has a story on how he and his colleagues worked with some Chicago staff to add new data about lobbying to the Chicago Data Portal.

*Freedom of Information Act. In California, it’s called FOIL, or Freedom of Information Law.

So that bike lane enforcement

Where is it?

This is beginning to make me angry.

The Chicago Police Department has issued 5 citations so far this year to drivers parking in the bike lane (well, as of October 11, 2011). I’ve taken photos this year of more than 5 drivers parking in the bike lane. Here’re frequencies from all the years I asked about*:

  • 2007 – 2 citations
  • 2008 – 6
  • 2009 – 8
  • 2010 – 2
  • 2011 – 5

At the September 2011 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said that he’s working on an enforcement plan. I’d like that plan to start with more frequent enforcement of Ordinance 9-40-060 – Driving, standing or parking on bicycle paths or lanes prohibited.

A blocked bike lane can make cycling more uncomfortable and dangerous, especially for inexperienced cyclists who often don’t change lanes in a visible and safe way.

*I’m only asking for 2007-2010 because I want it to coincide with the crash data I have.

Chicago Police responds to my FOIA request about bicycle theft

A Chicago Police (CPD) officer called me this morning to discuss my FOIA request for bike theft data. It was very revealing.

The first problem is that I forgot to ask for a time frame. No big deal, I can tell him over the phone that I want the last three full calendar years.

The second problem is that there’s not a separate code for recording bicycle thefts. It’s recorded under “Simple Theft” and as being under $300 or over $300.

Third problem is that the database front end (the graphical interface that allows officers to search the reporting database) doesn’t allow him to search all of the report narratives for “bike” or “bicycle” and limit the search to “Simple Theft” in a specific time frame. Some report codes allow narrative searching, and some don’t. He said it would be impractical to search all narratives for the words “bike” or “bicycle” because a lot of reports not about theft would appear in the results.

In my last blog on the Chicago Police Department’s FOIA response (for my request about bike crashes), they explained that they don’t have to create records that don’t already exist (like a list of bike thefts). This response is identical, but they called and gave me a better explanation. The officer also said they don’t have the staff resources to spend on collating their records for bicycle theft reports. I understand this.

He also explained that reporting standards at the CPD are guided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the department’s “Incident Reporting Standards.” In the FBI’s reporting standards, there exists a line item for “bicycle theft” but it’s the same code as “simple theft.” There are separate codes for “credit card theft” and “motor vehicle theft.”

It seems the solution to the problem of obtaining records on bike theft in Chicago is to update the Incident Reporting Standards and include a new code for bike theft reports. At the end of the call, I understood that I was not going to get a list of bike theft dates and times from the police.

For now, Chicagoans should also report their bicycle theft to the Stolen Bike Registry so there’s a publicly available record of theft locations.

A Chicagoans rides his bike north on Halsted Street through University Village. If his bike is stolen, we can’t expect the Chicago Police Department to keep an easily findable report of it.

Bike crash reporting tool: I receive a response to my FOIA request

UPDATE 12-15-10: I forgot to add that the letter stated that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t require the responding agency to create new datasets or records where one doesn’t already exist. This means that if what you ask for doesn’t exist in their databases or file cabinets, the agency is not about to filter or search through existing data to create a custom set for you.

I continue to prepare to create a bicycle crash reporting tool (or web application). Here are the previous posts. Readers have sent me many great suggestions and concerns about how to create it, what data to use, and how to present such data. I don’t expect to begin any demonstrable work on this until mid-January when I return from my 21-day European vacation.

Today I received a response letter from the Chicago Police Department regarding my recent FOIA request for bicycle crash data.

This was disappointing: “After a thorough search, it was determined that the Department has no existing record responsive to your request.” I thought, “that doesn’t seem right. They don’t make reports on bicycle crashes?”

Police respond to a bicycle crash in Newberg, Oregon. Photo by Matt Haughey.

The letter later states, “The Department  does not currently possess a record which aggregates bicycle crash data.” Ah, this means something now. It seems that while the Chicago Police Department does make reports on bicycle crashes, it doesn’t keep a running tally or stored database query which it can use to produce the data I want – what I want would require a little more work, I guess.

The final paragraph does recommend that I contact the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Traffic Safety’s Crash Reporting Section, where the police forward their reports. It turns out that I already received crash data on IDOT and I’m “playing around with it” using Google’s Fusion Tables.

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