BetaNYC’s testimony in support of Int 0153-2014

Date: Wednesday, 30 April 2014
From: Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
To: NY City Council’s Committee on Transportation.
Subject: In support of Int 0153-2014.

Dear Chair and Committee Members,

It is a great honor to address you and represent New York City’s technology community. Particularly, a rather active group of technologists – the civic hacker.

I am Noel Hidalgo, the Executive Director and co-founded of BetaNYC. This is our fourth time appearing before you about this subject.

BetaNYC is a member driven good government organization. We are over 1,700 members, and our mission is to build a city powered by the people, for the people, for the 21st Century. Last fall, we published a “People’s Roadmap to a Digital New York City” where we outline a digital roadmap for the people.

BetaNYC is a member of the New York City Transparency Working Group, a coalition of good government groups that supported the City’s transformative Open Data Law.

Previously, our testimony influenced the Vision Zero Action Plan’s data and technology recommendations. Additionally, we were the ones who requested the newly launched Vision Zero community suggestion online map.

We want to go on record and state that we admire DoITT’s GIS department. They produce magnificent work. In this administration and with your leadership, we hope that this innovative department is expanded and its best practices are shared with other agencies.

BetaNYC is an advocate for is for “human centered design.” This is when you place the needs of the community in the forefront of product design. When we look at the law and pending legislation it is hard to see the citizen at the center.

While we get more transparency, this proposed legislation needs to beyond transparency. We need a crime and crash map that will increase public awareness of safety issues, provide communities information to advocate for safer intersections, and allow communities to hold precincts accountable.

Both, the current law and this proposed legislation, mandates a user interface that is limited. Additionally, it mandates the aggregation of data that is uncommon among other public safety maps.

The language within this proposed legislation prevents New York city from having the best of breed public safety map. To maximize the fiduciary oversight over the NYPD and DoITT, we ask the Council to amend this proposed law and grant us the citizens the maximum flexibility in understanding the city’s crime and crash incidents.

We support the reintroduction of this legislation but have significant reservations. In general, we want to see this law amended to provide the following:

  • community insight on NYPD’s enforcement practices,
  • ensure citizens have access to the underlying data, and
  • ensure that location and incident data is as accurate as possible.

Include Moving Summons Data

Currently, the NYPD publishes moving summons data in monthly city-wide aggregates. This method of publication, like current crash data, is insufficient.

In light of Vision Zero, moving summons data is as important as crash data. Currently, communities are not empowered to see where enforcement is occurring. Yet, community boards and citizens are demanding to see traffic laws enforced.

We all do not want crashes and deaths to be the leading indicator of unsafe intersections. Yet, we have no way of knowing if motor vehicle laws are equally enforced. If we have a crime map and we have crash map, why can’t we have a moving summons map?

We ask the Council to improve this bill and include moving summons data to be as detailed as crash data.

Bulk Data Access

We ask the Council to amend the law so the data contained on this map is open, downloadable, and machine readable. Ideally, this data should have an application programmable interface (API) for integration into software tools and advocate analysis.

Also, update the city’s open data law to apply to mapped data.

Improve Location Data

We recommend improving the bill’s language to ensure accuracy of location data. We have met with several community boards whose jurisdiction spans several precincts. They in-turn have us to hack the map and produce localized data and represented at a community board level.

When one looks at the published data, you get different results. The Daily News reported that the city has a severe crime problem in our public housing developments. In 2013, the Castle Hill development in the Bronx had 43 felony assaults. According to the Daily News, this is the most of any NYCHA development. Yet, when I looked at the NYPD’s crime map, I could only browse January to March and found 39 felony assaults in the one block radius of the Castle Hill development.

The same problem occurs when you are looking at crimes in parks. There is no crime in a parks. For example, all crime in Central Park is tied to the transverses. On Ward’s and Randall’s Island, seven felony assaults and two grand larcenies happened on the RFK bridge.

The map’s data is locked to intersection and mid-block points. Because of the map’s poor location data, the public can only approximate where incidents is happening.

Crashes like crimes have specific locations. Additionally, not all crashes happen on the road. Unfortunately crashes between pedestrians and cyclists happen in parks and on bridges. Unsafe road conditions are in parks and on bridges. If we pass this legislation as is, the map would make you think that the most vulnerable location or dangerous location is at an intersection or mid-block.

The United Kingdom Police department has clear guidelines on how to provide as accurate of data a possible while ensuring the privacy and security of data.

We recommend the Council improve the bill’s language ensuring accuracy of location data.

Improve Data Collection Practices

Previously, the NYPD stated that they do not collect specific location crash data. Yet, when they report their collected crash data, one-fifth it is inaccurate.

The state’s MV-104 form clearly provides the opportunity for more detailed location data. We do not need to wait for the NYPD to outfit their officers with tablets before we improve data collection.

We ask the Council to ensure that the NYPD’s data entry practice is as complete as possible. We ask for the NYPD’s data entry system to have an address validator, and if possible use the city’s own geocoder to collectively increase data accuracy.

Disaggregate the Data

Having the date and time of an incident is a critical component. Most cities who publish crime data do not aggregate their incident data. It is odd that this city would go through the effort to map and aggregate incidents and not conform to internationally recognized best practices.

The fact that New York city does not publish date and time crime data leaves it open to be seen as an “open washed” city. This is like greenwashing but for transparency – where governments intentionally publish data that they are claiming to open, when in practice it is not.

We ask the Council to improve the legislation by allowing the public to see specific incident’s date and time.

Ensure that the city has adequate technology leadership

We are four month’s into this administration and the city does not have a Chief Information Officer, Commissioner at DoITT, a Chief Analytics Officer, a Chief Digital Officer, and an Executive Director at the NYC Technology Development Corporation.

This city has the resources and knowhow to make this technology work in the service of all New Yorkers. We need technical leadership that can take us there.

We ask the Council to ensure that this city has the proper government technology and design leadership. We need technology advocates inside of City Hall who can ensure that the City’s technology implementation best serve the people of the city.

Thank you for your time,

Noel Hidalgo