An Annotated Look at the San Francisco Port-a-Potty Arsons

In my work at EveryBlock, I
try to keep up with what's going on in each of the cities we work in.
One topic of considerable discussion in San Francisco is the
months-long string of arsons to port-a-potties at construction
sites in Nob Hill and Russian Hill. Here's an annotated spreadsheet of the arsons– scroll down for more explanation.

EveryBlock intelligence on San Franciso Port-a-Potty Arsons - Google Docs_1233819125872

At first, this kind of story is great for the headline writers and the News of the Weird aficionados. But as time goes by, and more explosions go off in residential neighborhoods, the joke kind of wears off.

I've seen two maps that show where the incidents occurred. This map by Rob Spectre is really well-documented, with incident addresses sourced directly from the San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson. This map, from Curbed SF, has the times as well as the dates of the incidents.

It occurred to me that the EveryBlock "Older news" feature is perfect for times like this, when you're really trying to figure out what happened near you. EveryBlock serves as kind of a black box for your block, automatically collecting all sorts of information that can slip by in the river of daily messages, and archiving them so you can mine for context if called for.

So I created a an annotated spreadsheet of every port-a-potty arson incident. I pulled the date and address from these existing maps. Then I added the block page for each address on the date of the incident (well, actually it's the day after the incident, so as to make sure all relevant news articles, police calls, Flickr photos, and other info are fully represented for that day). Next is the current Overview page we have for the area.

Then I took a (relatively quick) look at the block that day to see if anything popped out. The Police calls for that block almost always have something interesting, so I pulled out links to "possibly relevant police calls" in another column. Next is the relevant excerpt from that police call and then the Cime ID (a very underutilized feature of this EveryBlock data). Lastly, if I could find a news article about the exact incident, I link to it with an excerpt.

The context is astonishing sometimes. At 6 a.m. someome calls the police for an alarm going off. When they show up to check, it "seems secure". By 10:47 p.m., there's a fire on the same block. In the early evening, someone calls to get a car towed, and just after midnight the next day, an explosion occurs. Homeless people get checked on, suspicious persons are checked out, tickets are issued, restaurants are inspected, and so on.

When you click on the Overview page for each of the affected blocks, you can go out slightly wider, and back farther in time for some of the data types that are updated less frequently. This includes Building permits, including (I assume) the ones for the construction sites that required port-a-potties in the first place. You can see the prices of homes for sale, and permits to dig holes in the street, and photos of people walking on the blocks.

Lots of context to see what happened before something went boom.

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