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Update: Minneapolis Police Department restores accessible data format

***The MPD has changed its position and reposted the Excel data files. See update at the bottom of this post.***

While looking for August crime reports yesterday to update our Minneapolis crime app, we found a note that stated that the Minneapolis Police Department will no longer be releasing their monthly reports in an Excel format.

Do to issues with the Excel formats we will no longer be posting them.

This came as a surprise as we recently launched our crime application based around data in these Excel files. The MPD releases PDF reports as well, but PDFs are not actually data formats and are harder to work with when creating structured datasets.

We contacted the MPD to get more details about why they made this policy change (we were especially curious given the timing). We received this response via email:

The crime stats are subject to being corruptible in an excel sheet.  They have been changed in the past by persons unknown and this affects the veracity of the original data posted. If stats are posted on-line in a PDF format, this reduces the risk of contamination. Note if data was kept on a SQL, the data could be viewed, manipulated and accessed by many and yet keep original and intact. This is cost prohibited and will not be pursued. Effective immediately the stats should just be posted in a PDF format.

At this point, it is unclear who "persons unknown" refers to — internal employees corrupting the data before publication, or citizens and consumers, like MinnPost, who are using the data they have released publicly. 

If it is the latter, segregating the data to PDF does not prevent it from being manipulated. Data in any format can be manipulated; it is up to the source, in this case the MPD, to confirm the accuracy of the data. The more accessible the data formats are, the easier it becomes to confirm the validity of that data when it is used by third parties. And while we can use PDFs as a data source, it is a more complicated process than using Excel or other raw data, and creates more possibilities for errors to be introduced. 

Data formats may seem like a petty complaint, but these formats directly contribute to how transparent and accessible crime information is for our cities. We will continue to work with the MPD around this issue, and are hopeful that they will choose to release more workable formats once again. In the meantime, we will keep publishing updated crime numbers each month despite the somewhat more complicated process.

***UPDATE***

On Thursday afternoon, the Minneapolis Police Department posted the Excel data files online again. Assistant Chief Matt Clark sent us this note via email:

We looked into the issues this morning. Apparently, there was a recent concern from our Analysis Unit when posted statistical data appeared to be erased/altered. Yesterday’s change in policy was a well-intentioned act by a concerned MPD employee. We will continue to post this information monthly in Excel format. To address the data issue, we will monitor the site routinely and offer contact information to the public for any data concerns. The MPD values transparency with the public, and we want to provide any department information that can be lawfully shared. We also appreciate the cutting edge work MinnPost has done in keeping the public informed on crime statistics and reports. It is clear to us at the MPD that an informed public is able to assist us with reducing crime and improving public safety.

We appreciate this move by the MPD to promote transparency and easier access to public data.

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Comments (5)

Huh?

MPD's response makes no sense at all. Modern PDFs are as editable as XLSs, and either can be saved as read-only or password-protected. All they've done is make extracting the data more bothersome and troublesome and less likely to be analyzed (and maybe that's their real goal).

Geez...

But they've saved all that money on proofreading!

Big deal

The data is out there. Whether it's in a format or not that makes bloggers happy is irrelevant. Adapt to it.

[sic]

MinnPost, you should have used heavy handed [sic]. If anything, to benefit the copy editors' sanity. This story is just awesome.

Re: MPD Data

I seem to recall that there used ti be a capability to make files 'read only.' MPD could make the online accessible file 'data without formulas' or 'read only.'