GAH09 Philadelphia Hackathon: New Jersey Gang Survey Viewer

The New Jersey Gang Survey Viewer is a visualization tool for the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Survey 2007. The site was developed by five volunteers over this past weekend, with the help of New Jersey State Police analysts. Our goal was to elevate public knowledge about street gang presence in New Jersey, USA, based on the NJSP’s 2007 survey of the 560+ municipalities in the state. The NJSP analysts approached me shortly before our Great American Hackathon meet-up in Philadelphia was to occur, and our group eagerly saw this project as a great way to work with a government data provider on an app that we think will elevate public knowledge in an important area.

NJSP analyst Dean Baratta, who along with his boss joined us in Philadelphia on the first day of our work, has this to say today:

The amount of work these guys did in two days is really incredible given the shape of the underlying data. It was fine for researchers and academics but not suitable at all for the general public. . . . Not long ago, I mentioned on another site that the democratization of information and the ability of people to collaborate who (in the pre-internet days) would not even known of each others existence was one of the global issues which makes me feel optimistic. This was the type of work that I was thinking of when I wrote that. Check out the work these guys did and then start asking your local and state law enforcement agencies why they don’t make information like this available to the public.

This is a work in progress. We accomplished all we could in two days. This included a large amount of work learning about the survey, normalizing the survey data, linking it to geospacial data, and learning Django and GIS web technology so we could create a mapping website rapidly. The site displays gang statistics for the municipalities in New Jersey and maps of the locations of the major gangs present in the state.

The NJ Gang Survey Viewer was created by volunteer civic hackers Nick Cazoneri (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission), Robert Cheetham (Avencia), Don Coleman (Chariot Solutions), David Middlecamp (Avencia), and Joshua Tauberer (Civic Impulse), and from the New Jersey State Police Dean Baratta, intelligence analyst, and Peter Lynch. We were hosted for the weekend in the Avencia office in downtown Philadelphia. Here we are (besides me behind the camera and David who came a bit later):

We mostly didn’t know each other before the weekend, but we all got along great. Our weekend work was the Philadelphia version of the Great American Hackathon 2009, a network of similar civic technology meet-ups held throughout the nation and loosely organized by Sunlight Foundation, a DC-based government transparency nonprofit foundation.

David, one of our team members, says:

I enjoyed getting to know the group and working on something that normally doesn’t get the technical attention that it should.  Learning a new platform and contributing to the greater good, a fun weekend.  :)

If you are interested in working with New Jersey gang and crime data, you can contact me. The NJSP would like to continue this effort.

This gang survey data is relevant to a wide range of New Jersey residents and visitors to the state. The current perception of ‘gang threat’ is frequently one that is primarily urban and particularly violent. This has implications for both government and society at large. The belief that gangs are someone else’s problem — and someone else’s tax burden — could potentially reduce public support for anti-gang initiatives that go beyond an initial impulse to “lock ‘em all up.” Gangs are reported present in dozens of rural and suburban municipalities throughout the state. Almost seven out of every ten New Jerseyans live in a municipality where gangs can be found. Clearly, gangs can not be considered an exclusively urban phenomenon in any part of New Jersey.

Our work this weekend was a great experience and is proof that technologists are willing and able to work with government agencies on a volunteer basis to develop civic applications that the agencies don’t have the mandate or funding for themselves.

2 Responses to “GAH09 Philadelphia Hackathon: New Jersey Gang Survey Viewer”

  1. Mark says:

    This is incredible. I notice this was written around 12 months ago now, has there been anymore voluntary work carried out in conjunction with the government agencies? Wills