police

Today is the soft-release launch of PhillyBlotter, the crime report and research-analysis tool that’s stuffed into a smartphone app.

What is it?   Well, let’s take a look.

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Those of you who grew up in Philadelphia may have no idea what a police blotter even is since one has never really been published before in the city except for small fits and starts in neighborhood newspapers.   A police blotter is a log of police activity including crimes and arrests made.   Small town newspapers have published police blotters as long as there has been newsprint—it’s great column filler and it attracts readers who want to know what is going on with crime and the police department.

Philadelphia (or any big city) is far too large and dense to have a comprehensive police blotter published (just look at that map above for the past 10 days).   There’s not enough trees to kill to publish a running listing of what the police are doing.   That’s where PhillyBlotter comes in.

PhillyBlotter is an app that combines basic crime reports from the Philadelphia Police Department* with arrest information from the Philadelinquency CourtWatch system that’s been around for a year.   When both are combined together you can get a very powerful look into what’s actually going on with police activity in any part of the city.

Police blotters also help keep eyes on police activity so community members can stay engaged and up-to-date.  If your community has a town watch, this is right up your alley.  For instance, if a rash of burglaries is happening in your neighborhood, you’ll be able to see it right away.  It might prompt you to ask more detailed and pointed questions at the next police representative that comes to your community group meetings.   Is there a pattern to these burglaries? Is it just the same people hitting a bunch of different properties or is it different people each time?  What can we do to deter it?  You get the picture.

The app is also neighborhood-aware.   That’s because it’s been coded by a Philadelphian and over 130 Philadelphians have been beta-testing it since September.   PhillyBlotter has been programmed to know over 105 Philadelphia neighborhoods and where they are.  You can select a neighborhood police blotter specific to your own neighborhood or you can mix and match up to three neighborhoods and combine all the crime data together on one screen.   Don’t know which neighborhood you live in?  PhillyBlotter can tell you if you set your primary location in the app.

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Sometimes though on a police blotter entry you’ll see a little police icon in the listing, like this:

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That means there is an arrest record in the court system that’s tagged to that crime report.  Both will display if you hit it.

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You can go straight to the Commonwealth court system to view the public docket records.   As always, returning-citizens needing help to suppress and expunge their arrest records can use the Courtwatch Arrest Termination Form to sequester their arrest record (provided it is 45-days past the arrest date).  Suppressing an arrest record on Courtwatch also makes it invisible in PhillyBlotter.

Crime searching is also something you can do on your phone, which is hard to do on most crime websites and is nearly non-existent in mobile apps.  You’re not stuck looking only at the most-recent data either, you can research crime going back to 2006 and arrests going back 5 years.

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For instance you can search Bridesburg for all burglaries that happened there over the past summer.   You can also search by police district and PSA if you don’t want to search by neighborhood and whether or not the case has charges associated with it.   If you have a specific case number from the police you can enter the District Control Number directly and view that case immediately.   It’s easy.

The ‘One Mile’ Blotter

One of the coolest blotters is one centered just around you.    First, set your Primary Location in the app settings and then create a yellow circle that signifies the area you care about most.  The yellow area is where you will get push notifications for violent and violative crimes such as homicide, rape, burglary, robbery and aggravated assault.

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Now you get a police blotter that shows the crimes ordered by the distance from the location you have set, all the way up to one mile away.

Impressed?   You can take the app for a spin.  At $4.99 it’s available in the Google Play Store for Android phones and tablets and in the Apple App Store for iOS.

Requirements for Android:

  • Device must have the Google Play Store and Google Maps installed (Amazon-based phones and tablets that only have the Amazon store are not eligible)
  • Android OS 4.4.x, 5.x, 6.x or 7.x (and higher)
  • High Accuracy Location services enabled on the device in order to use Crime Map, One Mile Blotter and push notifications
  • 512MB RAM (minimum), 1GB RAM (recommended)
  • 120MB free space of storage

Requirements for iOS:

  • iOS version 9.3 and higher
  • Location Services

*** While PhillyBlotter displays records sourced from PPD and from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania it is not associated or affiliated with the City of Philadelphia nor the Philadelphia Police Department.   PhillyBlotter was written and maintained-by Christopher Sawyer, owner of Philadelinquency.

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It seems like the trend of fewer and fewer gun prosecutions is continuing.

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With only 10 days in this month remaining, Philadelphia will have averaged less than 200 gun cases a month since April.

This pattern indicates that a tectonic shift in how many people in Philly get charged with illegal guns happened sometime between March and April of this year.  It still remains a mystery.  The chart, updated here in real-time, tracks the number of criminal court cases filed in Philadelphia that contain gun charges.  You can review the cases individually over on CourtWatch.

Whether anyone else out in mediaspace will ever figure this out, I haven’t the slightest.

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He’s done.

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A Federal jury finally got to hear testimony from Greg Naylor, the key person and the tightest individual in the inner circle surrounding teacher-endorsed Congressman Chaka Fattah.

Testimony on the witness stand against Fattah paints a picture of one of Philadelphia’s most powerful politicians as a perpetual money-deadbeat, taking on obligations left and right, then reaching into the campaign fund to cover those obligations when his Congressional salary and his wife’s as a (former) anchor at NBC10 wasn’t enough.

Naylor admitted cooking up false tax returns for Fattah’s son to sign, listing him as a political employee in order to cover back tuition owed to Drexel University.   That tax return was part of the charges Chaka “Chip” Fattah, Jr. was convicted and sentenced to prison for.   More importantly: Fattah directed Naylor to do it, linking the congressman.

The problem for Fattah began when he ran for mayor.  Campaign finance rules were established in Philadelphia to limit outside money after a Republican candidate for Mayor Sam Katz came dangerously close to defeating incumbent mayor John Street after it was revealed that the FBI had bugged Street’s office.  Fattah was one of the key architects of John Street’s comeback campaign to paint the City Hall FBI probe as a D.C.-fueled campaign to eliminate black Philly politicians.   The spin-doctoring worked and Street was re-elected.   Soon after it was revealed that the FBI wasn’t targeting Street but was listening in to learn how a West Philly imam connected to the drug trade was able to secure City contracts, leading to the infamous “Pay-to-Play” scandal which ruined Street’s legacy forever.

Those campaign finance rules set by City Council after the 2003 election stuck and Fattah was adamant to get around them.   Instead of grassroots fundraising, Fattah already had access to one donor who could lend him $1,000,000 right away and could swamp the election.   Fattah fought in court to get the City’s campaign finance rules removed–it failed.   He proceeded with the loan scheme anyway.

Repaying that loan after his humiliating defeat at the polls set in motion the events which haunt him now.  Fattah has been in a perpetual cycle of owing creditors.   Keeping up appearances, he still maintained his multiple homes and his lifestyle appeared undamaged.  Beneath that veneer his finances had exploded.

In a way, Fattah is somewhat a farce of the traditional 1970s-style liberal-Democratic ethos:  get the money now, spend the money now, worry about the consequences later.

Fattah won’t be a Congressman anymore by next year.   As the trial continues at a pace faster than most of us care to admit there’s a real possibility we could actually see Fattah convicted within the next two weeks and sentencing delivered before Fattah’s term officially ends.    He literally could be sentenced to prison while still a sitting member of Congress.

Naturally, most of Fattah’s most ardent supporters who have papered-over his avarice all these years are staying silent and keeping their heads in the sand.

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Well, almost all.

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Philly Rap Sheet was a pretty cool site, especially when the police aren’t being very communicative and the crime happened right by my house.

But over the last couple of years that site has been dead.   It left me sad.

So, I am building a new one.

Here is the prototype so far.   The data updates in real-time (every hour), as the District Attorney’s charging unit enters new criminal cases into the system, I pick them up and they appear on the data panel.

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There more data panels, charts and graphs coming.

What’s different about this version, called CourtWatch, is that its a bit friendlier to returning citizens.

Besides blocking Google, Bing and Yahoo! from being able to suck up all the records on CourtWatch, it’s possible for those who have an arrest they would prefer not to have seen on the website to have it suppressed so it won’t show up in searches.

Those who have criminal records can request either a temporary suppression of their arrest record(s) for up to 120 days; so you can forget about using CourtWatch as a free run-around to a background check tool.   However, people who are freshly-arrested must wait 45 days after their arrest date before making a request to suppress the record.

Those who have secured a purge of their arrest record can also use the same form to purge themselves from CourtWatch.   The website will check the courts to see if the criminal record is still available to be downloaded, and if it isn’t, your record is poofed like it never happened.

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