Open City

Police: Crime Data Not Available for 'Several Years'

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 29, 2009

As part of my research for my recent article on the man who was robbed at gunpoint near Locke St., I decided to look at the underlying pattern of crime in southwest Hamilton to see if the incident was a fluke or part of a trend.

After compiling statistics from a series of monthly reports (formatted in PDF) that were prepared by Ward 1 Community Crime Manager Jo-Ann Savoie and archived on Councillor Brian McHattie's website, I realized that it would be valuable to have data for the entire city in an accessible database format.

I posted the data I had collected here:

In a September 24 blog post, I invited other RTH readers to help collect this information for every ward. Not surprisingly, readers jumped right in to prepare lists of names and contact information for all the ward crime managers. It quickly became apparent that the level and detail of crime data varied greatly from ward to ward.

In the meantime, I spent a few days following up with the police to see if someone could send me the raw data so we didn't have to spend a lot of time scraping data out of PDFs and other unstructured, inaccessible data formats.

I eventually escalated my request to Kenneth Leendertse, the Deputy Chief of Community Policing. He informed me that the current system the police use to manage crime data has no way to provide a data dump, and that crime data must be extracted manually and hand-counted in a "labour intensive" process.

It turns out that the detailed crime data for Ward 1 is a credit to the dedication of Sgt. Savoie to provide the data, as well as a testament to the good working relationship between her and Councillor McHattie.

Deputy Chief Leendertse noted that the police have moved to a new records management system called NICHE RMS. He added, "This system will have a capability of providing [the crime data you want] in the future but it will require programming, etc."

Right now, the top police priority is implementing the NICHE system and changing their business practices to "ensure the correct data goes into the system".

Leendertse confirmed, "Best Practices would dictate that the public be allowed access to all this data. Other Services have the capability and our hopes are that we can be there in the future." Unfortunately, "at this time, the information you are looking for is not available."

Having worked in the past with closed legacy systems I can appreciate the difficulty this generates in providing access to data. Yet I was encouraged by the Deputy Chief's statement that making the data available is consistent with police best practices.

I asked him when he thinks the data will be available under the new system. He replied, "I will be examining some best practices in the future. This may be available within the next several years. However, it will require capital expenditure to make it happen."

Frankly, I consider that an unacceptable timeline for data that ought already to be publicly available. I am now considering filing an FOI request.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2009 at 09:53:08

I'd do it. It's important information.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:23:58

If they can do it in Ward 1, they can do it in all the wards across the city. Citizens and neighbourhood associations should be pressuring their councillors as well.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:45:22

Highwater, part of the problem is that many parts of the city - especially up the Escarpment and in the suburbs - simply don't have active neighbourhood associations or community councils.

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By Colin (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 08:22:37

If you get incident data with addresses, we'll map it on SpotCrime.com.

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