For Jianye Lu GRD ’09, each crime alert e-mail is a data point.
Lu, a graduate student in the Computer Science Department, thinks the YPD should be doing more to make the Yale community aware of potential threats. And so to help fill in what he says are gaps in information, he took the matter into his own hands, launching a prototype of a crime tracking Web site in 2004.
Now, every time information about a crime is e-mailed to the Yale community by Yale Police Department Chief James Perrotti, Lu adds the incidents described to an online map. The map, Lu said, allows people to visualize where crimes are happening and discern trends that are not apparent in messages about individual incidents. But as Lu graduates next month, the future upkeep of the Web site remains uncertain.
“I want to make the information more intelligent, more approachable for the users,” Lu said in an interview, adding that sometimes text alone is inadequate to convey information completely.
The map allows users to sort crimes based on the type of incident in question, what day of the week they occurred, what hour of the day they happened, what month of the year they took place, whether a weapon was involved and whether there were injuries.
“We could see, for example, is it safe to hang out Saturday night? How does the crime rate compare to a Monday?” Lu explained.
With one button click, users can pull up a chart with bubbles — whose sizes correspond to the number of crimes committed — for each time of day and day of week. Looking at the graph, the answer to Lu’s question is clear: The bubble on Saturday night is much larger than the bubble on Monday night, signaling a higher crime rate.
Lu worked last summer for approximately an hour a day for a week to create the current version, which has drawn over 400 visitors, mostly from the New Haven community, Lu said. He said the feedback he has gotten from a survey on the site has been mostly positive.
While acknowledging that the map provides useful information, Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said Yale Security might not have the resources, especially in this time of budget cuts, to create a similar map.
“We would need to look at the resources needed to maintain it compared to the existing demands on our staff,” she said.
The New Haven Police Department sends out daily maps of crime activity, but those maps do not always include data from the YPD and do not contain information such as the time of day each incident occurred.
Even Perrotti’s e-mail messages, Lu said, often do not contain as much information as Lu would like. The e-mails occasionally do not say wehther there were any injuries and have sometimes failed to report what time the event occurred, omissions that hinder the completeness of the site, he said.
The future of the site is uncertain: After Lu graduates and moves away in June, he does not plan to continue to update the site. Although he plans to ask some of his friends whether they want to take over the site, he said, his ultimate goal is for the YPD to take up that responsibility.
The YPD did not respond to requests for comment about Lu’s map.
After a quick glance at the site, David Helene ’12 said the map looked as if it could be helpful and that a similar YPD-run map would be helpful to students.
“Anything that gives the student body an advantage would be appreciated,” he said.