Monday, October 10, 2016

Bicycle Thefts in Fairfax County

We've been trying to gather bicycle theft data for Fairfax County. We don't have a good understanding of how many thefts are occurring and where they occur. We've asked Fairfax Co Police on multiple occasions and have not been able to obtain data that we can map.

The information is available in the police news outlet, The Daily Blotter (extracted image on the right) with a general location which is usually the block address. This would be enough to create a map of bike thefts. When we asked police for this info we were told the following:
"The daily police blotter is a report put together manually with the creator looking at the exact address and changing it in the Word document to a block number. This is not a field that is readily available."
If in digital form, the address could easily be rounded to create the block number.

In order to extract the data, we would need to go to each daily blotter post, search for bicycles, and cut and past the data (or have a program to do the same). Thinking there should be an easy way to extract this information from the database, we asked again. This was the response:
"Theft or Larceny incidents are all categorized the same and listed as singular entries, so larceny is how it is put into the records management system. The item that was taken, in your case a bicycle, is listed separately. ... what it means is to narrow down the search of just bicycle thefts will require a FOIA request. You can make a FOIA request by calling 703-246-2918 or you can email"
We were also told that anyone can access this data in map form using an application called Fairfax County supplies data to the system and bike theft data is included. Below is a screen capture of a section of a map showing Thefts in the area around the Dunn Loring Metro station. Three bike thefts are shown during the past 6 months, which is how far back you can search, but only one can be highlighted. 

If zoomed too far out, no incidents are displayed.

Searching is not intuitive. To create the above map I zoomed to the area, clicked on "Filter" under the search window, unselected all and then selected "Theft." Map icons will then show up, either in the form of a diamond ring or a circle with a number inside indicating multiple incidents. On the right there is a dark green box containing: "List <" Clicking on List will bring up the agency. If more than one appears select Fairfax County Police Department. To see the incidents, use the tab at the top next to "Agencies" that says "Incidents." You can then scroll to "Larceny - Theft of Bicycles."

If you want to see whether any bike thefts have occurred recently in your neighborhood you can use this application. Since this data is mapped, we're not sure why it can't be released as map data by the county. If we obtain a countywide map of bike thefts we'll publish it here.

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