Gotham Gazette

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Comptroller's New Claim-Mapping Tool Shows Trends, Has Glitches

comptroller sanitation claims map

ClaimStat map of property damage claims against the Department of Sanitation

On Wednesday, July 9th, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer rolled out a new report and online tool called ClaimStat to combat the rising costs of claims against the City, for which $674 million has been set aside in the fiscal year 2015 budget. In conjunction with its detailed report using fiscal year 2013 data, a set of interactive maps was released on the comptroller's website which visualize where each claim was made.

The claims report is something required of the Comptroller each year - and this year's identifies several high-claims areas for city agencies to address. The maps, meanwhile, are a new feature brought online by the new comptroller, aimed at further leveraging data to identify patterns in claims filed against the City. Department analysts, as well as members of the public, will not only be able to see which districts or precincts are home to the biggest liabilities, but drill down to street level. Detail like that, particularly for the Sanitation Department, claims against which often involve its vehicles, could provoke useful policy change, increase safety, and bring claims down.

The ClaimStat maps, though, show glitches. While analyzing the data points on the map of sanitation department vehicle property damage claims against the City, Gotham Gazette found multiple instances in which the claim address provided at a map point did not match the point's position on the map. In one instance, the plot point was in another borough from the address provided.

When Gotham Gazette brought the issue to the attention of the comptroller's office, a spokesperson for Stringer said that the comptroller's office will work over the next few days to address any errors and update the map to ensure it reflects the correct plot points. "Correcting those discrepancies is one benefit of transparency, and the Comptroller's office will continue to refine the presentation of ClaimStat as we move forward with this important initiative," press secretary Eric Sumberg said Thursday by email.

Examples of mistaken data points include claim 2011PD034250, positioned in Manhattan at Grand Central Station, 45th St. and Park Avenue on the map (shown below). When clicking on the map point, though, the address for the claim is shown as "PARK AVE" and "E 160 ST." The corner of Park Avenue and 160th St. is in the Bronx, nearly nine miles away by car, according to Google Maps.

grand central

In Brooklyn, claim 2013PD014491 is positioned, at least initially, at the corner of Green Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint (show below). The claim occurrence data shows the address as "E 19 ST AV Y AV Z" and the borough as Brooklyn. Google Maps shows the point of E 19th St. between Avenue Y and Avenue Z to be in Sheepshead Bay, over 14 miles away.


Some mistaken instances are not as egregious. Claim 2013PD015885 was plotted at Fifth Ave and 64th St. in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The address given was "5TH AV & 6TH AV" and "48 ST," which is 16 streets south.

After reviewing screenshots brought forth by Gotham Gazette, the comptroller's office noticed the map points were always positioned at one correct street, but not necessarily on the right cross street. They noticed when both cross streets were entered on the first address line, titled "Claim Occurrence 1" the address was plotted correctly. In some instances where the cross streets were split up between "Claim Occurrence 1" and "Claim Occurrence 2," there was a software error in plotting the points correctly on the map.

The information in the report used the raw data, not the map, to compile its findings and identify key patterns, and should not have been affected by the software error, according to Sumberg of Stringer's office.

"Prior to publishing ClaimStat, the Comptroller's Office assured the overall integrity of our data by performing due diligence and a series of spot-checks on the thousands of claims entered into our mapping software," Sumberg wrote. "The underlying data is sound, but software limitations can contribute to discrepancies when that information is mapped."

comptroller sanitation claims map

(ClaimStat map of property damage claims against the Sanitation Department) 

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

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