Good results gained by taking advantage of murder-related open data

In 2015 the so-called Murder Accountability Project, (MAP) started to be applied, which aims to educate US citizens about the importance of accurately counting unresolved murder cases in the USA.

Thomas Hargrove

Its driving force is the retired journalist Thomas Hargrove. In the final phase of his career he began to analyse data published by the FBI in supplementary reports about murders which was made public with crime-related statistics. Working with this information, some non-resolved cases were detected which may be connected to a serial killer in Gary (Indiana). Although he got in touch with this city’s police force in 2010, they took no notice. In 2014, in a neighbouring town called Hammond a man was arrested who admitted having committed multiple homicides, but some of the cases which Hargrove blamed on a serial killer have still not been solved.

Convinced that the information he had at his disposal could help to detect other cases, Hargrove continued to analyse the data until he achieved some encouraging results. Filtering data concerning women murder victims of between 20 and 50, and focusing on where and how they had been murdered, he gained results which confirmed that a large number of these coincided with cases attributed to serial killers. Therefore, with the same variables, it was very probable that non-resolved cases of this profile of victim, who had been murdered nearby in the same way, had also been murdered by a serial killer.

The MAP is currently analysing 900,000 homicides committed between 1965 and 2015. Of these cases there are over 22,000 for which the project has obtained information directly from municipalities, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, as some municipalities and cities do not inform the FBI for a range of reasons (lack of economic resources, material, staff, etc.). This large amount of data also provides everyone who so wishes the chance to analyse any statistical programme for him/ herself.

Although there are other sources of information (the FBI’s National Crime Information Centre; The National Information Violent Deaths System and the centres of Control and Prevention of sickness in the USA), the MAP does not use them because they do not always facilitate knowledge as to whether cases have been solved or not.

In recent years other projects have also sprung up which analyse open data about homicides in the USA from different viewpoints. Two examples, centred on firearm-related deaths, are those carried out by Periscopic and FiveThirtyEight. The first, U.S. Gun Deaths in 2013, 2010, provides a visualisation of data to show the years of life lost due to homicides caused by firearms in the USA, and did so based on homicide-related data (obtained from the FBI and from the twitter account @GunDeaths, which has led to the project Gun Violence Archive) and life expectancy (with data from the World Health Organisation). The second, Gun Deaths in America, is an interactive graphic which uses data from the National System of Information about Deaths and offers a visual presentation of the varying weight of over 33,000 deaths due to firearms in accordance with a range of legal considerations, and which stresses the point that the facts which warrant most media attention are only a small part of a very complex reality.

The data from supplementary reports concerning FBI homicides can also be accessed on a page of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Prevention of Crime in the USA: Easy access to the FBI’s Supplementary Homicides Reports (EZASHR).

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