Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flint Murder Map, R.I.P.

My experiment with the Flint Murder Map has ended.

It sparked some good discussions about how to cover homicides, but it proved to be way more work than I imagined. More importantly, I didn't feel it was really providing much of a memorial to the people who died in Flint. I was basically reprinting information gathered by the overworked and under appreciated reporters at
The Flint Journal, especially Shannon Murphy, Bryn Mickle and RoNeisha Mullen. I didn't have the time to conduct interviews with family and friends or offer a more complete portrait of the deceased that I thought they deserved. (Believe it or not, this was actually my original plan. After 19 years as a journalist, I should have realized how unrealistic this goal was.)

Although it is not complete, one thing the Murder Map provides is a reasonably comprehensive look at where murders occurred in 2008. It also offers a database for readers to begin making their own judgments about what counts as murder and what doesn't. As this January story by Shannon Murphy shows, the Flint Police are more than willing to revise the murder count:

"Flint police now are saying 2008 had one of the lowest reported number of homicides in a decade.

"On Monday, interim Chief David Dicks said the city had as much as a 10 percent decrease in homicides from the previous year.

"That comes just a week after Dicks reported there was a 16.6 percent increase — from 30 homicides in 2007 to 35 in 2008.

"A closer look at the statistics revealed that up to eight of the homicides are justifiable, which would bringing the number down to 27, Dicks said.

"'This is a big deal for us and the citizens,' Dick said. 'It's showing we are doing the best we can.'"

Anyone who has ever watched The Wire knows that statistics compiled by the police should be verified independently.

In season three, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin complains about pressure to "juke the stats" to create the appearance that crime is decreasing. "You can reclassify an agg assault, unfound a robbery, but how do you make a body disappear?" he asks.

Apparently, you simply reclassify the murder as a justifiable homicide.


  1. looks like 'super-chief's" best wasn't at police work...perhaps he can get a job doing survey work, after he's done w/jail, and the fed. maybe they should put on chasing Randa's trail...

  2. As a person who simply cannot bear to read the Journal online (daily reports from my hometown can literally bring me to tears), I am saddened by your decision to d/c this feature. Even without the interviews, I would say that knowing the names, the locations, some of the stories behind every single life taken in Flint last year was somehow =important.= Each human being who had no choice about passing got a moment of silence in my far-away home.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at