Thursday, January 1, 2015

Data interpretation, and defining what is the City of Lake Worth

The data in the Palm Beach Post would have you believe that from January 10, 2009 until November 9, 2014 there have been 50 homicides in Lake Worth. There haven't been. The City of Lake Worth had 30 homicides in that span of 2,129 days. In a city just under 7 square miles, that is still high. However, still a better reflection of reality than 50. (Remember, 2009 was soon after PBSO took over the police services for Lake Worth.) If you didn't read the fine print in the Interactive Map "Palm Beach County homicide victims", a story by Palm Beach Post reporters Julius Whigham II and Michelle Quigley, and you weren't very well-educated regarding the boundaries of Lake Worth then you would come away believing there were indeed 50 homicides in Lake Worth. 

Here is the fine print below the Interactive Map I am referring to: "Note: City refers to mailing address and does not always coincide with municipal boundaries."

Here is one of the homicide locations that didn't "coincide with municipal boundaries". This homicide location, 10920 50th Street is south of Lake Worth Road and west of the Florida Turnpike, which is well outside the municipal boundaries of the City of Lake Worth. For some reference, this homicide location is over 11 miles from our Lake Worth City Hall. 

Of the 50 homicides attributed to "Lake Worth" here is a list of homicides that actually occurred in suburban Lake Worth, outside the city:
Shootings: 12
Child abuse deaths: 2
Suffocation: 1
Stabbing: 4
Vehicular homicide: 1

On the Post's Interactive Map, 40% of the homicides were outside the city limits of the City of Lake Worth. Forty percent. Below the Interactive Map is a menu. One of the choices is, "Filter by city". You will see cities listed from Belle Glade to West Palm Beach. Nowhere is the option to find a list of homicides in unincorporated Palm Beach County (PBC). 

So it would appear all the homicides in Palm Beach County, at least in this map, are being attributed to municipalities. Below I have a map from Wikipedia of Palm Beach County with the municipalities shown:

Palm Beach County is massive: 1,977 square miles. Fifty-five percent of residents live in a municipality of which there are 38, the rest live in unincorporated PBC. By far most of PBC land area is unincorporated. 

Imagine you are a business person, an investor, or looking to move to Lake Worth? Data like 50 Lake Worth homicides from Julius Whigham II and Michelle Quigley could be very troubling. We have difficulty teaching reporters who have been in PBC for years the difference between the City of Lake Worth and suburban Lake Worth so how would a future, let's say future homeowner, unfamiliar with municipal boundaries know the difference? 

Much time and effort went into the Interactive Map by Julius Whigham II and Michelle Quigley. However the information is misleading and inaccurate, especially as Lake Worth is concerned. A simple, small typeface, 14-word disclaimer doesn't make up for inaccurate information.   

This Interactive Map needs more Interactive Fact Checking. And why not do a piece about the importance of municipal boundaries and real-life implications of those jurisdictions?