Finding out where crimes and fires occur in Baton Rouge just became much easier thanks to a new website the city-parish unveiled on Friday.
The website, “Open Data BR,” features loads of information about everything from the locations of crimes and car crashes to the salaries of city-parish employees. Anyone with Internet access can view the information for free at https://data.brla.gov.
The creation of the new website follows the development of similar online tools in other cities across the country, including New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. The readily available information can be used to satisfy curiosity, promote research projects or even foster new business ideas, officials said.
“The launch of Open Data BR is a critical step toward growing a strong, vibrant digital economy here in Baton Rouge,” East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said in a news release. “We believe this initiative will truly revolutionize how the public interacts with our city-parish data.”
Before the creation of the website, much of the information made available on it was not easily accessible to the public.
The site’s format allows users to “filter” the data in each spreadsheet, making it relatively easy, for example, to find out how many burglaries or murders were reported in a specific section of the city over a certain period of time.
For those curious about the income of public employees, that data also can be sorted in many ways. For example, a search of employees who earned more than $100,000 in 2014, including overtime pay, turned up 71 names.
Some types of data will be updated more often than others.
Crimes, fire department responses and traffic information will be updated daily. Property data will be updated weekly. And employee salary data will be updated annually.
Although the crime data isn’t updated in real time, it is updated on a daily basis. And it’s reliable, because the data is generated from incident reports filed by police officers and approved by supervisors, officials said.
Using “call for service” reports could potentially allow for more timely information. But such reports are much less reliable because they’re based only on information provided to dispatchers.
For example, if someone reports hearing shots fired that turn out to have been fireworks, the incident report would reflect the incident as a fireworks violation, whereas a call for service report likely would reflect it as a shooting.
“We hope that the more current information available on the open data site will help the public to be more informed about what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” said Lt. Jonny Dunnam, a Baton Rouge police spokesman. “We hope they can use this information to assist us when they see something suspicious.”
Currently, the information related to public safety only comes from the Baton Rouge police and fire departments.
But that could be expanded in the future to include information from other parish agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office or the St. George Fire Department.
“While I can’t give a definitive timeline for adding data from other parishwide agencies, we absolutely will be reaching out to them to discuss publishing their data in the Open Data platform,” said Eric Romero, the city-parish’s interim director of information services.
Romero said website developers will continue to add new data sets and improve the reliability of the current ones in the coming weeks and months.
There are some quirks.
For example, because attempted murders are coded in a similar manner as actual murders, filtering results for homicides on the website turns up a total of 343 homicides in 2014, more than five times the true figure.
“We understand that we may need to tweak certain things,” Romero said.
In other cities with similar websites, software developers have used available data to create applications that track road closures during storms and other apps tracking building permits and business licenses that could be helpful to entrepreneurs and builders, officials said.
“We believe this initiative will serve as a catalyst to engage the software development community to leverage our data — provided at no cost to the public — and work with us to develop technology-based solutions to public-sector problems,” said Romero, the interim director of information services for the city-parish.
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