Interfaces to Government: Oakland Crime

Oakland has a huge network of Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils that provide a level of community interaction and engagement around crime and local issues.  This network is supported by city staff (Neighborhood Services Coordinators- NSCs) and Problem Solving Officers (PSOs) and each has a local member as the chair. In come neighborhoods these groups operate more like planning councils on broad topics, in others you’ll find people talking about stray dogs, blight, violence and truancy.  These are mechanisms to engage residents on civic issues. they matter to a city. We have a huge list of all the different yahoo groups where they communicate if we’re interested, but how, just how do you find out what beat you are in?

The city’s current answer: use this incredibly horrible PDF document to clumsily guess. Seriously. I swear the city had something better in the past, but this is how you are meant to find and connect to your “local” group. Even ignoring its purpose, this is one of the worst maps I’ve ever seen in Oakland.

Fortunately I do believe that our interfaces to government can be beautiful, can be simple and can actually function. And I believe that civic engagement and action is critical in a city with such structural problems. So I built a better version. In less than three hours. I give you an open source tool that I originally cloned from a great developer in Chicago and remade as a tool to easily help parents find which elementary school zone they live in, where your free tax sites are in the Bay Area to get awesome free tax prep help from professional staff if you earn under about $50k.

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The new web app is found here: http://spjika.github.com/FindYourBeat

It’s simple, does just one thing but hopefully does it well. It’s a small tool that you should only need to use once in your life per house you inhabit.

Knowing how to use the tools and how to find and redeploy open source code means you can produce something incredibly useful and interactive in about the same time as you would take to make a half decent static map as a PDF.  I can say this because I’ve made literally hundreds of good, static PDF maps.

There are obviously dozens of other areas where our local government interfaces are not customer friendly. And we can help to improve them.  At OpenOakland we love to hear about areas that better technology can improve government interactions, citizen engagement and efficiency. Have an idea? We’ll soon have our new project requirements criteria published so you can pitch a new tool, process or tech idea!

If you are confused by the concept of open source, it means that anything you build, you share the source information publicly, freely, for reuse. It can be software code, it can be data and the analysis method you used, it can be a policy! By sharing it, you enable others to do even more with what you made. Just like the app that OpenCityApps built and shared, the app that sparked a hundred websites…

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