Highest crime rate in L.A.? No, just an LAPD map glitch [Telecom]

Highest crime rate in L.A.? No, just an LAPD map glitch

The department's online map incorrectly showed many crimes downtown

-- near City Hall and the police station -- when its 'geocoding' software couldn't interpret the true address.

By Ben Welsh and Doug Smith April 5, 2009 Los Angeles Times

On Monday it was a grand theft auto and two robberies, on Tuesday two more robberies and four aggravated assaults. By Friday the toll had risen to 39 major crimes.

And, according to the Los Angeles Police Department's website, that week late last month was pretty typical of the mayhem around the corner from City Hall.

Since the inception of the LAPD's online crime map three years ago, the 200 block of West 1st Street has consistently shown up as the most likely place in Los Angeles to be victimized by crime.

But don't believe everything you read on the Internet. The spot, directly in front of the Los Angeles Times and a block from the new LAPD headquarters, is actually quite lawful.

Behind the apparent enigma is a case of virtual unreality. The crimes reported there were real, but they actually happened somewhere else. The only thing they had in common was an address that proved impossible for a computer to find.

The distortion -- which the LAPD was not aware of until alerted by The Times -- illustrates pitfalls in the growing number of products that depend on a computer process known as geocoding to convert written addresses into points on electronic maps.

In this instance,

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is offered to the public as a way to track crimes near specific addresses in the city of Los Angeles. Most of the time that process worked fine. But when it failed, crimes were often shown miles from where they actually occurred.

Unable to parse the intersection of Paloma Street and Adams Boulevard, for instance, the computer used a default point for Los Angeles, roughly 1st and Spring streets.

Mistakes could have the effect of masking real crime spikes as well as creating false ones.


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***** Moderator's Note *****

On first glance, this seemed unrelated to telecom. Then, I wondered if the E911 system relies on this or a similar technology to map telephone customer's addresses to route-finder software in emergency-response vehicles. Comments?

Bill Horne Temporary Moderator

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