Ottawa crime data lock-in
Here is a nerdy data complaint:
Earlier this year the Ottawa Police announced they would be publishing daily crime data via CrimeReports.com, it's a nice searchable interface using Google Maps. I loved the idea and thought it was fantastic that citizens had an easy way to search and view this data.
Fast-forward a few months and I had some ideas I wanted to try with the public crime data. I hunted around for a way to access the data in a usable format or at least an RSS feed, but there were none that I could find. I looked into scraping the data from CrimeReports.com and that was non-trivial. CrimeReports.com offers emailed crime reports (blegh) and here's what their Frequently Asked Questions page says on the matter:
How can users access crime information for their areas of interest?
CrimeReports.com is a community-facing Web application, and as such, emphasizes the user experience. A CrimeReports.com user simply enters an address of interest (home, office, school, etc.) and clicks on "Get Report" to see criminal activity in a given area on an easy-to-use map interface. The CrimeReports.com Web application also integrates data from multiple agencies into a single interface and offers automated, location-based alerting services.
Which to me is code for â€œCrimeReports.com would rather lock-in the data, and as such, not help potential competitors.â€
Finally, I contacted the Ottawa Police and asked if there's a way for regular folks to access the daily data they're providing to CrimeReports.com. They pointed me to the weekly reports (which look like this, and would be usable with some parsing). Only problem: these have been discontinued in 2009 in favor of sending all the data to CrimeReports.com. They said there's no public feed for that data and that I'd need to make a Freedom of Information request.
So we have a situation here where the Ottawa crime data has been moved to a site that's easier for 99% of citizens to access and understand, but the data is locked up in a third-party website and inaccessible to anyone who wants to do some serious work with it. Which to me is a huge step backwards.