For this lab, I selected data from the NYPD’s reporting on NYC Parks Crime statistics to study. On the NYPD’s crime statistics page, within the nyc.gov website, they offer reporting on parks crime statistics that are downloadable by quarter for each year, dating back to the second half of 2014. I decided to select data from all four quarters of the most recent four years available, 2018-2021. I was inspired to do so because I live one block away from a park in Brooklyn, Irving Square Park, that has been a major target for police surveillance ever since a cluster of violent crimes took place in the park last year. At the same time, I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric, both in conversation with peers, and reported in news outlets, that since the pandemic ravaged NYC in 2020, there has been an increase in crime, and many feel less safe in the city. It was reported throughout 2020 (Sisak & Mustian, 2020) and 2021 (McCarthy, 2022) that crime in New York City was on the rise, and we’ve continued to see coverage to this effect into 2022 as well. Thus, I decided to select two years prior to the pandemic hitting NYC (2018 and 2019) and the two completed years of the city living through the COVID-19 pandemic (2020 and 2021) to gauge whether this city-wide crime trend was mirrored in the park crimes throughout the boroughs.
Influences and Inspiration
Prior to approaching the creation of the visualizations for this lab, I identified two examples of previous work tracking changes in the crime rate in US cities, including NYC, to help inform my questions and design choices.
The first example is the Crime in Context 2016 visualization and report (Dance & Meager, 2016) by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that takes a critical look at criminal justice in the US, and how the justice system and law enforcement can be made to be more humane and transparent (The Marshall Project, n.d.). The main visualization of this report is an interactive line graph showing changes in the rate of crime in US cities, using data on violent crime reported by 68 police departments nationwide. The graph ranges from 1975-2015, and the viewer can select specific city’s lines on the graph to see their trends over the decades. Included further below are other visualizations, also line graphs, that call out periods that caused changes to the crime rate in cities, accompanied by photographs of local police at crime scenes and events. I liked the aesthetics of these visualizations, which were quite bare-bones and focused on the fact, and showing larger and smaller trends over a wide span of years in many cities with very different demographics.
The second resource I consulted was the NYC Open Data Crime Map!, a community-led project on NYC Open Data using the NYPD’s Complaint Data (Year to Date) (Crime Map!, n.d.). This visualization is an interactive map, much like a GoogleMaps view, that shows locations of crimes reported to the NYPD, including felonies, misdemeanors, and violation crimes, and groups them in hubs by count that show areas with more NYPD complaints, versus areas with fewer. The viewer can scroll around and zoom in to see the breakdown of where complaints have occurred, and can also access the data used to generate the map through the NYC Open Data platform. While the interactive map format was compelling, it wasn’t something I was able to achieve with the data I selected, and by using so much broad data reported by the NYPD, I felt I didn’t have enough information to determine if the areas highlighted as being the center of many complaints were in fact more dangerous, or just areas with more policing, given that misdemeanor and violation crimes were included in the data set.
Data: The data used for these visualizations was downloaded from New York City’s government website, from the New York City Police Department portion’s reports on NYC Park Crimes (NYC Parks Crime Statistics, 2022). I downloaded 16 excel spreadsheets total, four quarters for each of the four years (2018-2021). This data reports seven major areas of crime in the parks: murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
OpenRefine: In order to reformat the data I downloaded from nyc.gov into a single usable CSV file to input into the visualization program, I used the OpenRefine software, which is a free software (OpenRefine: Welcome!, 2022).
Tableau Public: To create these visualizations, I used the data visualization software Tableau Public, which is a free software (About: What Is Tableau Public?, 2020).
Link to Tableau Public.
Methodology and Results
After downloading the 16 excel files from nyc.gov that contained the four years of NYC Parks Crime data that I wanted to work with, I first had to open each excel document and delete the leading rows that were merged, and which would not allow me to input the spreadsheet data into OpenRefine if left in. Then, I opened all 16 spreadsheets and imported them into OpenRefine, using the standardized file names to add columns for quarter, date, and year. I then used OpenRefine’s transpose tool to change the format of the spreadsheet so that instead of each type of the seven reported crime categories having a column with a count below it, instead there was a single column for Type of Crime, and a single column for the Count of the crimes. Once I had formatted the data as needed, I exported a .csv file from OpenRefine.
I used this exported .csv file to load the data into Tableau Public, and began making visualizations. My first large question was whether the pandemic had seen a rise in crimes perpetrated in NYC parks, and if this was consistent across all boroughs. Once I created a visualization in the form of a bar graph that showed the total count of all categories of reported crime across the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island), I was surprised to see that there didn’t seem to be a marked trend in increased crime from 2018-2021. In fact, in 2020, the year the city was most dramatically effected by COVID-19 to date, there was a marked decrease in park crimes, likely because people were encouraged to remain in their private residences as much as possible, and to avoid contact with people outside of their households. After the steeper decline of 2020, there was an upward trend in crime count moving through 2021, but the numbers in 2021 are still below the counts from 2018-2019, signaling either a shift in crime trends, or continuing influence of the pandemic stopping people from gathering in pre-pandemic numbers in the parks.
I was surprised by this finding, and it led me to wonder what the distribution was of these types of crime, and whether there was any change in crime trends over the course of a calendar year, since these numbers had been reported quarterly. Using a bar and pie chart, I learned that grand larceny, robbery, and felony assault account for 93.19% of all park crimes reported in this data, an overwhelming majority. The other four categories, burglary, rape, murder, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle, account for a neglible number combined.
By tracking the trend of crime volume over the course of the year, I also identified a very consistent spike in crime counts in the third quarter of each calendar year, which represents the months from July to September. These months, the hottest of every year in NYC, make sense to account for the most crimes compared to other quarters. The summer months are the busiest months for the NYC parks, when most residents do not have central air conditioning and gathering outdoors can actually be more comfortable than staying in your home, and better for your electricity bill. The summer months are also when most New Yorkers schedule gatherings outside in the forms of picnics, barbeques, and beach days. It makes sense to me that these busy months, when more people are present in the parks, correlates with a rise in crimes. I wonder if the crimes per capita are also seen as dramatically higher than other quarters, or if the increase in visitors is the only factor accounting for the rise in crime counts? Or is it true that crimes do increase in the summer months for other factors? I would need further, and more detailed, data to determine an answer.
Regarding the design, I wanted to include green as the main color for these visualizations, as the data refers to NYC parks, which all incorporate green heavily into their branding. Thus, I used shades of green for the majority of the visualizations, and a green-blue-gray scheme for the pie chart as it was using different variables of the data, to prevent misinterpretation by users. I was happy with the base Tableau font offered, as it was a nice sans serif font that was easily legible, but I did increase the size of the title and headings slightly, and decreased the size of my noted observations included in the visualization to further de-emphasize those observations in comparison to the data.
My conclusion from analyzing this data is that park crimes in NYC have not risen in the seven reported categories contained in these NYPD public reports, and thus the city’s parks have not adhered to the rise in crimes reported by the media. This was not the outcome I expected, but it doesn’t mean that citywide crime isn’t on the rise – there are many other settings not accounted for in this data that may result in the reported rise in crime rates. That said, it did lead me to believe I am justified in feeling as safe in my neighborhood’s parks as I had before the pandemic, regardless of increased police surveillance in my own closest park.
I would be interested, after working on this project, in studying crime statistics in other areas of the NYPD’s reporting, and to see, if possible, whether increased crime rates correspond with areas that have more policing and police surveillance, as this is a topic that I have been deeply interested in following the protests against police brutality across many US cities, including in NYC.
About: What Is Tableau Public? (2020, July 28). Tableau Public. https://public.tableau.com/en-us/s/about
Crime Map! (n.d.). NYC Open Data. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Public-Safety/Crime-Map-/5jvd-shfj
Dance, G., & Meager, T. (2016, August 18). Crime in Context. The Marshall Project. https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/08/18/crime-in-context
McCarthy, C. (2022, January 3). NYC wiped out five years of policing progress in 2021. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2022/01/03/nyc-wiped-out-five-years-of-policing-progress-in-2021/
NYC Parks Crime Statistics. (2022). New York City Police Department Website. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/stats/crime-statistics/park-crime-stats.page
OpenRefine: Welcome! (2022). OpenRefine. https://openrefine.org/
Sisak, M. R., & Mustian, J. (2020, December 29). “Dark period”: Killings spike in NYC amid pandemic, unrest. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/new-york-shootings-new-york-city-violence-coronavirus-pandemic-b1c52b8071219052fd713a6b83999698The Marshall Project. (n.d.). About Us: Mission Statement. The Marshall Project. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://www.themarshallproject.org/about