Images of Crime: L.A. Vice City

Find a sense of security in the big city can take several steps:

1) get a “club” for your car

2) tell your mother you have 24/7 security in your building

3) take a self-defense class

4) have some handy pepper spray

5) always wear a good pair of running shoes.

Cities are daunting entities in size, population, and possibility. Knowing them as thoroughly as our childhood homes takes time and personal curiosity. There are several ways to know and learn a city, especially Los Angeles.In the past few years, the LAPD has made efforts to make the people of LA feel safe from the notorious vice of the city. The LAPD has made very public endeavors to track-down and manage crime in the city in an effort to rectify themselves with a critical public. Cleaning-up and making the city safer for residents has always been their goal, and their innovative approaches to crime have often brought on heavy criticism and praise. The idea to map crimes seemed like on of their brighter ideas. It was simple. Create an easy to understand, public interface that will give Angelenos up-to-date information, and location, about crimes in the city. Making data visual is a way to engage the public effectively. That is, if the information is accurate.

According the LA Times and numerous residents of the city, the LAPD Crime Maps, while initially promising, have fallen quite short of their potential. On lapdcrimemaps.org nearly 40% of crimes between January and June of 2009 have been omitted. Several residents were outraged at the missing 137 rapes and 10,766 nonviolent thefts that were not reported on the crime maps, putting the LAPD in another tempest of criticism. Boosted as a tool that would help people better understand their neighborhoods and choose the best places to live in the city, residents feel as if they have been mislead by the institution sworn to “serve and protect” them. It is understandable.

What is bothersome, however, is that Angelenos use this map as a way to understand their communities and other neighborhoods of LA. While crime statistics are important–and always listed in local newspapers–the map of crime is so easy to use, so direct with its information, that is a potentially dangerous game for people if it is the only way people learn about communities, foreign and familiar, in their city. Does having such a visual representation of vice in the city change the way we view the streets we walk down every day and night? How we talk about South LA to our distant families and friends?

After looking up the Fallopia neighborhood just west of downtown LA it was difficult to walk down 6th without thinking of all the dots–color coded to represent different varieties of crimes–that lined 6th street over the past 7 days. Did the neighborhood just become more dangerous? Can we no longer walk to the grocery store at 9pm with confidence? The map changed the city.

Maps are powerful tools for understanding the world.  They hold the potential to change the way inhabitants perceive their city, altering public space and how we live.

It feels like LA just got a littler sketchier.

26 on 6th Crime Map

For more the history of crime and the LAPD in Los Angeles check out the pop-historical City of Quartz by Mike Davis. If you’re more into urban design and how urban space is rendered look-up The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch.

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~ by Em on July 11, 2009.

2 Responses to “Images of Crime: L.A. Vice City”

  1. are you guys still in LA? I’ve heard that most people with pepper spray spray themselves (ouch). The last place I lived, some “informed neighbor” decided to hand out the crime statistics from the last year which petrified me. It’s obviously not like my hometown where I never locked house or car doors, but knowing of crimes with guns, rapings, muggings, shootings and such did not make me feel any better about jogging in my neighborhood or being outside in general. I think it’s one thing to go about your life in a safe manner, but that just made me want to hide inside unless someone could escort me.

    • Still in LA, yes. Crime stats are interesting. It seems like making them public would be ideal, at first, but then it changes the way you live in your neighborhood. I agree with “going about your life in a safe manner” and perhaps on looking at crime stats from time to time.

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