Via Jeff Beckham, the Austin American-Statesman has a feature where subscribers can search property crimes in any area of Austin, by zip code, or even by street. (It’s free, but yes, you may have to ‘sign up’ to use the link.)

The map was created to support reporter Tony Plohetski’s story on property crimes, which looked at more than 40,000 police reports and showed that “property crimes are rarely solved, and the success of solving a case largely depends on where the crime is reported.”

This is a great addition to the site and exactly the type of feature that local newspapers should employ. The only drawback is that these are 2006 numbers, and thus about eight months old.

I think there are potentially other drawbacks, besides the age of the data. In fact, while I can’t prove it, I doubt there are statistically significant differences between actual current and year old data.

Other drawbacks? Well, according to the ‘APD disclaimer’ on the site:

  • Due to methodological differences in data collection, different data sources may produce different statistics.
  • Our data is continuously being updated. The data provided represents a particular point in time and does not take into account the dynamic nature of our databases.
  • The data here may not reflect official Texas DPS, FBI, UCR or NIBRS numbers.
  • The Austin Police Department can not assume any liability for any decision made or action taken or not taken by the recipient in reliance upon any information or data provided.

OK. Sounds like a standard “written by a civil lawyer” disclaimer.

But they could have just replaced it with the most famous quote from Mark Twain’s “Chapters from My Autobiography”:

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’

On a criminal defense practice note, I wonder whether the numbers in this database might be crunched to possibly contest a police officer’s contention that one of the reasons he stopped the defendant was “because he was in a high crime area”. It’s almost a joke among defense lawyers that some cops are willing to testify that any area of Austin is “high crime”. Next time I see that in a police report justifying reasonable suspicion to detain, I think I’ll use APD’s own stats to see whether or not it’s true…