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Website Puts Crime Tracking on the Map

Times Staff Writer

Angelenos can play gumshoe Philip Marlowe and track crime patterns in their neighborhoods and throughout the city, thanks to a new, high-tech initiative from the Los Angeles Police Department.

The LAPD’s interactive crime mapping, which went up on the department’s website late Wednesday, allows users to pinpoint by date and location specific crimes, including robbery, assault, rape and homicide, up to five miles from their own addresses -- or anybody else’s.

The LAPD has long posted weekly and annual crime trends for each of its 19 divisions. But like www.zillow.com, the real estate site that spits out values for individual houses, and Google mapping, where vacationers can see if their cars are still in their driveways, the maps bring the information home while appealing to a voyeuristic impulse.

The neighborhood watchdog can see whether a rumored burglary spree is real, parents can survey the block where their teenagers want to party, and house buyers can see for themselves if that street is safe.

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“Now you can not only see how many crimes are occurring in the city, you can help find those crimes on a map and hopefully help us solve some of them,” said Chief William J. Bratton, speaking at a monthly media briefing.

San Diego pioneered the use of crime mapping a decade ago, followed more recently by San Francisco and Atlanta. But the LAPD’s effort, which covers more than 470 square miles, may be the most extensive yet.

The site, www.lapdonline.org, also offers an “e-policing” option for residents who want the latest crime news delivered straight to their e-mail inbox.

“Instead of waiting to find out on the news what is happening in your neighborhood, you can sign up for an e-policing program that keeps you informed and brings community policing to your computer,” Bratton said.

West Valley Senior Lead Officer Tony Valadez suggested the e-policing program after noticing that he was fielding daily calls from residents -- all asking about the same crimes. The e-mails will be sent by local community officers, detailing offenses in the immediate area.

“It affords an officer the ability to send information instantaneously and surgically to a particular neighborhood,” Valadez said.

Kimberly Brooks, founder of Lightray, which developed the mapping and e-policing service, said the crime data run about a week behind. But soon lag time will be slashed to one day, she said.

“The visual maps really give the public a clearer understanding of whether, say, burglaries are occurring than a bunch of numbers on an Excel spreadsheet,” she said.

Realtors in other cities have been up in arms over house buyers’ redlining neighborhoods based on possibly misleading blips in crime. But Bratton said that doesn’t worry him.

“The reality is what the reality is,” he said. “The reality is that in large parts of the city, it is a good reality. But it is unfortunate certain areas of the city have more than their fair share of crime. But it is not a big secret.... This is an effort to inform.”

The website design and mapping were funded with $362,000 raised by the Los Angeles Police Foundation, not with government money. Bratton said the department planned soon to put out its own blog to spread its message.

“This is an evolutionary process; there is more to come,” he said.

Also on Thursday, Bratton disputed City Council members’ claims that the LAPD has gone over budget for officer overtime. The council is scheduled to take up the issue today.

“That overtime allocation for many years has always been underfunded,” Bratton said.

“They know every year that we are going to spend more than they allocate. It’s part of the budget games they play over there.”

The chief said the department has been unable to hire as many additional officers as it planned, so it will have plenty of money to cover pay for overtime.

“You may be hearing some of our council members raising that issue. It’s a bogus issue; has been and continues to be,” Bratton said. “The department is operating well within budget.”

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Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.


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