Trying to build a better way to report on crime

Concern about crime in Cleveland Heights is in the air. Some argue the city is falling apart; others say it’s fine. Some say we have too many police and they’re too aggressive; others want to see more on the street.

Common among residents is the desire for more information. We want to know the nature and number of crimes; who is committing them; where they are happening; how they’re being solved; and how they’re being prevented.

That’s the essence of the “Understanding crime in Cleveland Heights” project that begins on page 1 of this issue.

Under the Heights Observer banner, I’ve been working directly with the Cleveland Heights Police Department to present crime statistics to the public on a quarterly basis. This month’s initial report details how the numbers are processed and what they represent.

To its credit, the CHPD began publishing these numbers on its website in 2014; they are already available to anyone anywhere.

The Observer’s role is to make these reports more visible, and to add understanding and context when appropriate.

The information presented here barely begins to answer all the questions residents have about crime and public safety. Fuller understanding will unfold over time. But, by publishing crime data regularly, we hope to remove any sense of shame and secrecy about the issue, while encouraging open discussion that leads to a safer and healthier Cleveland Heights.

There’s an imperfection baked into this project that some will spot immediately: It relies on data reported by the CHPD itself, and many residents are skeptical of those numbers.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months getting to know the police chief and the department. I’ve been given insight into the process by which crimes are coded and reported—and the amount of care that’s taken.

Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson has expressed to me, more than once, that having accurate data is central to the way he runs the police department. He uses it for decision-making, setting priorities and allocating resources.

So the data you’re seeing hasn’t been collected for the publicity; it’s used to manage the work of fighting crime. Sharing it with the public is a positive byproduct that Robertson believes is important.

The department hasn’t always been run under a philosophy that transparency matters, but, since taking over as chief in 2011, Robertson has consistently pushed it in that direction. No matter how you’re predisposed to feel about information provided by the CHPD, this is worth considering.

Still, if you remain skeptical about the numbers, that’s healthy. I won't argue further.

We’re not going to tell you what to think about the information provided. Whether it’s good or bad is for you to decide. If you feel there isn’t enough information yet to judge, that’s OK too. We will publish the data on an ongoing basis with the idea that it will become more and more meaningful over time.

Bob Rosenbaum

Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chairman of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.

Read More on Opening the Observer
Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 12:20 PM, 01.03.2015