By Blake Kuzma
A popular nationwide crime mapping website inaccurately depicts crimes occurring in the central business district of Kalamazoo.
According to the website Crimemapping.com, over 530 assaults have happened in downtown Kalamazoo in the past 6 months. However, according to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s statistics on assault in the central business District, the number of assaults is 137.
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Click here to go to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s Website
Kalamazoo Police Chief Jeff Hadley said, “The statistics we have, which comport with Michigan Incident Crime Reporting… they don’t even come close to what (Crimemapping.com) has.”
Crimemapping.com is a website that partners with local law enforcement to allow people to type in any address in the United States to look up what types of crimes are happening near that location and how frequently. Spencer Bridges, a crime analyst for the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department, said they chose to partner with Crimemapping.com because it was very user friendly and was useful for civilians.
“What we like the most about it is that you can create a custom alert so you can type in your address or an area around where you live and you can set it up to say, ‘I want to know every day what happens around my house’,” Bridges said.
The information should be accurate, but that is not the case, at least for Kalamazoo.
A representative with Crimemapping.com said that the large gap may be due to what type of data is being put on its maps by the KDPS.
“Most of the agencies on CrimeMapping.com show incident data, rather than call data. That being said, for incident data, it is possible they have decided to show all offenses attached to an incident, rather than just the “top” offense,” said the representative from Crimemapping.com, who asked not to be named due to not having official authorization to speak to media. “For example, the top offense for a single incident may have been a robbery, but the secondary may have been an assault which occurred during the robbery. I believe Kalamazoo is showing incident data.”
Crimemapping.com does have a filter that allows users to only see reports from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, which matches the data given by police. However, this filter is not automatically applied when users first pull up the information.
Some other issues with the website data are the labels that particular crimes are given, as well as the technology of the mapping itself, which skews and limits what data is shown.
In the case of KDPS, Bridges said it was difficult to figure out what crimes fit under this a broad definition. “They only give you ten or so icons to put crimes under, so some of them might not technically be considered an assault that we call it, but because we want to give people more data than less data, we have to try to funnel it into to one of their categories that they have,” he said.
For example, Kalamazoo Department of Public safety describes aggravated felony assault as an instance where someone has been attacked and is injured but not killed. Non-aggravated assault has a much vaguer definition. Hadley said a non-aggravated assault might be “a shove, maybe I hit you, but didn’t cause any injury or we were wrestling or I tackled you and we went to the ground, I threw something at you.” Verbal assault is also covered under non-aggravated assault.
Crimemapping.com defines assault as, “An attack on a person to commit injury. Aggravated assault usually includes a deadly weapon and simple assault does not. Domestic violence is not included.”
While Crimemapping.com plans to implement updates in the future to address some of these concerns, Hadley recommends that Crimemapping.com should be used for looking at smaller distances, and not relied on for city-wide numbers.
“This would be a great tool for a parent who plugged in their child’s address and wanted to be alert about certain crimes around that address.” Hadley said. However, it should also be noted that Western Michigan University has not partnered with Crimemapping.com, so no data will be available for parents of students who live on campus.
In the meantime, Bob Lewis, a partner of the Millennium Restaurant Group and member of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc., said that these numbers should not deter people from living or working downtown.
“We all believe in downtown, not just because there’s money to be made, but we believe in a vibrant, professional place that people want to work and live and enjoy themselves,” Lewis said.