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New Opportunities for Data Publishing
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In the first year of the City of Philadelphia’s formal open data efforts, much success has been realized, and Philadelphia is viewed across the nation and around the world as a leader in the Open Government movement. However, there are a number of areas where additional open data releases are needed to realize Mayor Nutter’s vision for open government in Philadelphia.
###Police and Crime Data:
One of the largest data releases of the last year was the release of part 1 crime data by the Philadelphia Police Department. The release of this data was cited by Atlantic Cities Magazine as one of the of most important public data releases of 2012, and has resulted in the development of a number of innovative new applications that visualize crime data and make it easier for citizens to consume and use in their daily lives.
However, there are additional details of part 1 crimes that can be published, to enhance what has already been released and make it even more useful. For example, the specific UCR code for each incident in the crime data is not provided - a rounded number is used to denote the general category of crime, but more specific information should be provided to enhance the usefulness of the data. In the words of one data user:
“There's a lot of subtlety in Philadelphia's UCR codes and much of it is very useful - things like types of weapon used in assaults and robberies, time of day and type of burglary, and so on.”
More specific UCR code information, and additional narrative details about crime incidents had previously been made available in a map-only view of a limited number of crime incidents in Philadelphia through a third party website, but were not included in the broader data releases that took place in December 2012. These additional details on crime incidents (with the exception of crimes involving sexual assault) should be restored to the new data downloads and crime data APIs currently being published by the City of Philadelphia.
The city should also work to make available data on part 2 crimes - this would include all crime incidents not categorized as a part 1 crimes (Homicides, Rapes, Robberies, Aggravated Assaults and Thefts), and can include a number of crime types of interest to data users and community leaders.
In addition, another important data release of the last year was data on complaints filed against police officers with the Police Advisory Commission (PAC). Philadelphia is the only big city in the country to provide these details as an open data release, but complaints to the PAC represent only a portion of all complaints filed against city police officers. The city should work to release all complaints against police officers (including those made to Police Internal Affairs) as part of its open data program.
###Budget and Expenditure Data:
One of the areas where significant improvements in transparency and open data can be realized is in the area of budget and expenditure data. Currently there is no good source for city budget data or expenditures against city contracts for the City of Philadelphia in open, machine readable formats.
Those data sources that are available are usually out of date by weeks or months and/or available in a suboptimal format that has limited utility for data users. Other large cities, like New York, are far more advanced in how they share basic budget and expenditure data with citizens and taxpayers. The release of budget and expenditure data in an open format, updated at regular intervals, is a critical component to realizing Mayor Nutter’s vision for open government in Philadelphia.
In addition, there is no data available on employee salaries though most other large cities already publish this data as part of their open data programs including New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Baltimore.
###Property Tax Payment Data:
Another area where data is frequently requested is on tax payments made by property owners to the Department of Revenue. The Department currently makes property tax payment data available through a searchable web interface, but does not make it available either as a data download or through an API. This presents a number of problems.
First, since this data is frequently requested - not only by the public, but by other city departments and other government entities serving the City of Philadelphia - it should be a top priority for release as open data by the department charged with its stewardship. The overall success of the City of Philadelphia’s open data efforts will be judged by how many frequently requested data sets are ultimately released as open data.
Second, since this data is valuable and widely sought after some users will employ various techniques to programmatically extract the data from city web sites (sometimes referred to as “web scraping”). This is a suboptimal method for obtaining data in bulk and can cause instability of the infrastructure supporting city web sites, and also create unneeded issues for city IT staff.
Because this data is already being served through a web interface, the level of effort required to make it available as a regularly updated data download or as an API is likely minimal. Every effort should be made to release this important data in an open format as quickly as possible.
###Provide greater Variety of Data Formats:
The City should also take steps to make data available in different formats that may support more efficient use by outside developers and other external data users. This is particularly relevant for geospatial data sets that exist currently in Shapfile format. There are a number of alternate formats for geospatial data that can be used more efficiently by outside data consumers, and the city should explore which of these formats are most appropriate to use for geospatial data releases.