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image Here is a nerdy data complaint:

Earlier this year the Ottawa Police announced they would be publishing daily crime data via, 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 and that was non-trivial. 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? is a community-facing Web application, and as such, emphasizes the user experience. A 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 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 “ would rather lock-in the data, and as such, not help potential competitors.”

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 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 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.

Posted on - May 29, 2009 [at] 2:13 pm by Brad
Tagged in - , , , , ,

5 Comments on this post

Björn on Ottawa crime data lock-in
May 30, 2009 at 4:36 am

When I read to the part of the weekly reports, I was thinking that it wasn’t so bad, but stopping those reports is pretty sucky. Perhaps you can get in touch with someone over at the police and ask them if they could reconsider?

By the way, the crimereports link links to a gamesetwatch post.

colin on Ottawa crime data lock-in
August 31, 2009 at 3:43 pm

SpotCrime has been mapping crime data in Ottawa at no cost to its police department months prior to the CrimeReports contract. We have repeatedly asked for a similar data feed and received a similar response.

This completely belies the spirit of government transparency.

Matt on Ottawa crime data lock-in
September 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm

The police like to work with organizations that present stats in a way they like; for example, they really like the Taster corp’s stats on cause of death and Tasering incidents. This company controls the data even though it is “made public” so they can claim transparency; if some rogue off the street got the full raw data, they might be able to do something awful like chart crime stats against monetary outlay and show a trend which supports lower police budgets. Or show how ineffective specific detachments are at addressing ongoing problems. As it is now, it’s just “look up crime in your neighbourhood”.

However, a letter to the Police Services Board (not the police themselves) asking for the raw data to be made public may work. After all, it’s the public who is the employer, the police are the employee.

Brad on Ottawa crime data lock-in
September 5, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Thanks for the info, Matt. I’m gonna print this post out (and the comments) and send it to the Police Services Board. I don’t have a pressing need for the data right now but it’s disgusting to me that it’s locked up so nobody can do anything with it.

drew Roberts on Ottawa crime data lock-in
October 16, 2009 at 6:40 am

So many people / groups seem to want to play these games when they manifestly shouldn’t. And we have to slog it out one battle at a time and even when you win a victory, it is never safe. Someone is always plotting to take away the gains.

Freedom, it may cost a lot but it’s worth it.

all the best,


Comments are closed on this post.