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Sheriff’s online daily crime feed restored after hiatus causes concerns

Sheriff’s online daily crime feed restored after hiatus causes concerns
Crime reporting sites such as SpotCrime.com, seen in this screenshot, aggregate daily crime data. An online feed from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, an agency that responded to crimes included on SpotCrime, was recently suspended but is now back online. (La Cañada Valley Sun)

A daily online crime data feed issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department — and regularly used by neighborhood watch captains to track and report local crime trends — was temporarily suspended but is now back online, officials reported.

The feed stopped in early February after the department decided the information was too tentative and subject to change to be statistically relevant. Last Thursday, after a legal disclaimer was added to the sheriff's public data sharing website, the feed was resumed.

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In a March 28 memo, representatives from the Sheriff's Information Bureau informed locals they'd no longer receive daily updates on crimes occurring in La Cañada Flintridge and other areas falling under the jurisdiction of the department. Instead, a monthly report of verified crimes would be posted to ensure accuracy in reporting.

Online crime reporting sites like SpotCrime.com and crimemapping.com, which aggregate daily crime data for easy digestion and dissemination, continued to report crimes logged by other agencies but not the sheriff's department.

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The change left neighborhood watch captains like La Cañada's Cydney Motia in the dark about what was going on in town. Motia often shared daily online crime reports with neighbors on the "LCF Community Watch" Facebook page.

"I liked posting about burglaries because I wanted people to be aware of what was going on," she said. "It was also a place where I could go back and keep track of crimes."

Motia said she was disappointed to learn the daily feed had been suspended. Local neighborhood watch captains weren't the only ones who expressed concern — sheriff's deputies who used the daily feed to analyze crime trends and patterns were also alarmed by the shutdown of their own internal crime dashboards, according to SIB Capt. Darren Harris.

"Our crime prevention deputies understand it's preliminary and subject to change, but they're working on a certain zone, area or neighborhood," Harris said. "People want the data fast and furiously, and they want it today."

Capt. Chris Blasnek of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station said daily data can be a good source of information but can also be misleading over time.

"Sometimes it's good to let things be vetted a little bit, because there is misinformation out there," said Blasnek, who worked as a detective in East San Gabriel Valley from 1996 to 2000. "If you release information too soon, not everything is as it seems on the face of it — sometimes it turns out to be a different story later on."

Victims may initially exaggerate narratives or omit information that would recategorize crimes as greater or lesser offenses out of fear or the desire to protect a loved one, the captain continued. Information gathered in an investigation can vary greatly from a deputy's initial incident report.

Harris said the ongoing discovery of such discrepancies is what caused the department to temporarily disable the feed. While some thought was given to allowing public access to only verified monthly statistics, feedback indicated a strong appetite for the continuation of the daily reports.

Now, a disclaimer on the sheriff's daily crime reporting page asks users to acknowledge the information listed is "for informational purposes only" before they proceed. Visitors are also directed to the monthly verified information for reference. Harris said officials hope the fix offers the best of both worlds.

"It was a temporary disruption, but we hope the public understands what we were trying to do was for the interest of everybody involved," he said.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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