Tyler Sirens - a real-time open source crime map ... coming to Hamilton?

Hamilton’s police force plans to encrypt their radio communications in the near future. As part of this initiative, they may provide near real-time activity data.

If they do, Hamilton could have competing police activity maps or we may get an amazing series of cooperative maps.

Real-time crime map using Python

Tyler Texas police responded to an assault in 12 minutes. At the time of this writing, they were en route to a “disturbance unspecified” near Mahon Ave and Erwin Street.

How do I know this?

The Tyler police publish their Active Call List in real-time and a Tyler developer scrapes the data into the very useful Tyler Sirens web app.

Best of all: it’s open source as part of the Hack Tyler – an open data community

The application is a product of Tyler’s open data community Hack Tyler and it’s leader Christopher Groskopf who posted the source code to Github hacktyler / hacktyler_crime

Anyone can quickly change the code to display real-time police activity if their local police force provides the information – even in an non-open data format.

MIT License

The source is available under the MIT License – meaning it can be used at no charge and modified by others.

Digital encryption of police traffic coming to Hamilton

The police force plans to encrypt their over the air communications this year. Naturally, the news media is not happy about this arrangement. With the loss of police scanners, they will lose their window into Hamilton.

Without police radios, our news media is effectively blind. They haven’t built the community networks needed to survive without police radios. It’s a crutch they’ve relied upon for too long and they allowed themselves to lose touch with the community.

Our local news organisations have requested new police radios. The police force has shown no interest in giving them.

Once given, police cannot remove the radio without provoking a firestorm – police are not welcome in news rooms without special permission or arrangement for obvious reasons.

Encryption is already here.. for undercover units

Hamilton police already operate encrypted transmissions for their more sensitive undercover units.

Near real-time active call data in Hamilton?

In other cities with encrypted radios, media organizations have been given special access to active call records. Don’t wish to tell the media of a call, blackout the app.

Police have greater control over web applications providing news organisations access to their active call logs than they will over radios in news rooms.

Some cities open their data equally to the public and the media. Tyler, Texas is one of those communities.

I’m on the police media distribution list. However, I will be advocating strongly for equal access to information for the public, similar to Tyler, Texas.

Near real-time police activity for Hamilton?

Once the data is being broadcast by police, it makes sense for Hamilton to have a real-time police activity map. The map should not include domestic calls, calls involving young offenders, or children as victims. There should be other exceptions as well, determined by community consensus.

With access to the data, Hamilton’s open data community can (and will) quickly adapt hacktyler_crime to display local data.

We won’t be the only ones locally to display the data on a map – enter local media.

Media must use hacktyler_crime or open source –  Closed source will bring defeat

A real-time crime map is gold to any media organisation – readers see sirens and immediately visit the map to see what’s happening. Readership goes up and the cost of maintenance is minimal.

Any media organisation with access to near real-time police call data wants a crime map and is willing to invest significant funds to develop one.

The problem is they are reinventing the wheel – but, they don’t see it this way. They fear if they create an awesome crime map and open-source the code, their competitors (including readers) can take the code, create a better version, and beat them.

Which is correct – from a closed mind’s viewpoint… and that’s the problem – a closed mindset.

Look at Tyler Sirens – it’s impressive and it’s the work of one person in his spare time. Most importantly, it’s open source – others will adopt, adapt, and improve the code.

Those improvements are then posted and others repeat the cycle. Many hands like light work and the open-source community is able to out produce the closed-source media organisation.

The closed-source media crime map is unable to benefit from community. The community is unable to benefit from the innovation of media web developers.

The future of journalism is community – online and offline

As more police departments encrypt, media organizations are faced with the reality they need the community more than the community needs them. However, the lesson doesn’t necessarily resonate – near real-time activity data requires less vigilance than listening to radio transmissions.

The community is the best source of information – they know more than any other source. (Hence the police themselves always appeal to the public for information.)

It’s no different online. There’s always a developer better than a newsroom development team. There’s always a better user interface designer. There’s always an expert who understands the data better.

We, journalists, need to work with the community on all projects. We need to open source as much of our code as possible, especially when we benefit from open source as a framework for our projects.

Most importantly, we journalists need to benefit the community and that includes with code.