Vexed tracker: Crime-spotting site denied cop reports

Charlottesville crimes, as found via new reports.

UVA grad Colin Drane had what he thought would be a solid-gold idea: A website where you could see all the crime in your neighborhood or on your street. What he didn't foresee: How reluctant police are to give out that information.

In January, Drane launched and a companion site,, to map crime around universities. So far, he says he has sites in over 180 cities and at 200 universities.

"SpotCrime has the largest accessible crime database in the world," says Drane. And by accessible, he means available to Joe Citizen.

Drane, an economics/philosophy major who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1992, now lives in Baltimore, which he says has the second-highest per capita crime rate of any city in the United States. "That's kind of where my interest in tracking crime came," he says. "I live in the city and want my family safe."

He launched and here October 8, shortly after Charlottesville police declined to provide him with the daily incident report it emails to local media. "The logic was, you have ads on your site and we're not going to share," relates Drane, who notes that the Hook, which receives the daily report, has ads on its website. He says city police plan to launch their own crime-tracking site on Google Maps.

City spokesman Ric Barrick says that the Charlottesville police daily incident report is available online, and that Drane "can go onto the website like anyone can."

He admits that Drane's request "kind of caught us off-guard" because "we didn't know who he was." And in checking with other police jurisdictions on the SpotCrime website, says Barrick, some were unaware that Drane was mapping crime information.

Barrick cautions that information on the daily incident report is raw, and what someone calls in as a crime may, upon investigation, turn out to be something completely different. "You have to be very careful in comparing this data," he warns.

"I do feel like we're more willing and transparent to get that to the public," says Barrick. "Other jurisdictions don't put it out at all. We do have a website. Other jurisdictions don't. To say we don't share isn't fair– but we don't put out every bit of crime data."

Drane fared better in obtaining UVA crime reports because of the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to disclose crimes on and near campuses after Jeanne Clery, 19, was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm in 1986. UVA Police posts that information on its site.

For incidents such as the recent shootings at U-Heights, SpotCrime uses media accounts, which Drane says can be much faster than police reports. And his websites, which use icons (such as a fist for assaults), cite the source of the information.

"We provide email alerts," says Drane. "Sign up, and we'll send messages about crimes in your neighborhood radius." SpotCrime/UCrime also use text messages, RSS feeds, iPhone and Facebook to get the word out for free– applications Drane suggests would take police years to be able to offer.

"We're going to keep it up forever," he says. "Data is so cheap." That's why he's still pondering why Charlottesville police won't put him on its distribution. "There's no actual cost to add us to the email list," he muses.

AAlbemarle County Police Department does not make its daily incident reports available to the media or public. "It's not a report that we generate," says Lieutenant Todd Hopwood. "We'd have to hire someone to do it."

Charlottesville is the smallest city where Drane has launched SpotCrime, largely because he went to school here. He says he's having better luck with other, larger cities. "We've mapped over 2 million incidents since we started," he says.

"I see this for the good," he says. "Quicker information to people makes a safer society."

This story was last updated October 14.


This info, city/county should be available for easy access-public. Something is wrong here.
Citizen "reported incidents" should also be made available.
Seems there are those who don't want the pubic to hear the whole story.
Can one FOI the facts?

I've always said the city and county doesn't want people to know how bad crime really is. Just like they didn't want the local population to know we had a problem with drugs way back in the early 70s. Two law enforcement officers worked together and attempted to work drug cases back in the early 70s -- city Detective Bobby Hughes and county Deputy Sheriff Wayne Davis. Neither could get any support whatsoever from their departments. The departments didn't want people to know drugs were moving into our area. The drug problem in this area was never acknowledged or addressed by either department until it was already out of control.

Sick, Thanks for the clarification. I think we all know there ia a barrier, So now, how can we make things get better, as far as reporting/documentation-press goes?

plop, I don't know the answer. But it's been my experience the public will know only what the police departments want them to know.

whoa,whoa ,whoa. Sick your first entry is right on and I agree 100% but let's not start blaming the local departments. This all started years ago when 29 news and the Daily Regress had a choke hold on the the local media. They decided what the public should know and then they determined what their own version of the story was going to be. I think things have gotten a little better since the other news channels have shown up on the scene.

I pose a question though? If they give the information to this web site for people to look at, won't the criminals look at too? Will the criminal use it to judge where to strike next? I'm not sure of my own opinion on this. I also wonder this? Why has there been so little coverage on the shootings that have happened lately? There have been two, TRIPLE SHOOTINGS, in the last month. I didn't see anything here about them. I know one was in the county, not sure about the other.

LTR, I am basing my original entry on personal experience. The local media had no part in withholding the truth from the public. The media was never given the truth. The police agencies released only what they wanted the public to read, obviously in an attempt to lead the public to believe they (the police) had done nothing wrong and the "suspect" was a evil and bad person. It's all about CYOA in a lot of press releases.

I certainly wouldn't know of you experiences. I'm talking more about informing the public of on going crime issues like the website involved in this story. just a few thoughts.

As I read the newspaper, I learned of yet another murder last night. It seems these guys have no fear. I guess they know, they will never receive a death penalty in this city. Perhaps the Com. Attorney finally putting a foot down and sending some of these thugs to death row, may grab their attention.
It is also time the local police agencies provide on-line reports for the pubic (reported/actual) crimes happening in each neighborhood in the city/county. Other localities have provided such reports, and providing the info has raised awareness and reduced crime. It is time we demand such information from the police departments. People deserve to be better informed. The details should not be held in secret.

Correction. The city does provide an on-line report.

So,is there also a county report on line?