Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Police Department used 'Fantasyland' Coordinates for Years until Discovered; Now they use 'Atlantic Ocean'

Zack Love

For over 10 years, the Philadelphia Police Department logged the coordinates for crimes "without an exact location" to Disney World. It continued unchecked for years until a news investigation questioned the practice. So they decided to log these crimes into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Police officerPhoto by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

The practice of repeatedly doing something over and over again the same way incorrectly “because that’s how we’ve always done it” is now biting the Philadelphia Police Department.

An investigative report by NBC 10 Philadelphia found that Philadelphia Police Department continued to report “location-less” crimes incorrectly for over 10 years until an investigative report prompted them to change this practice.

The Washington Post also reported on this story.

For the Philadelphia Police Department crimes without a precise GPS location, police officers were using the coordinates of “Fantasyland,” a specific area within Disney World, which is located in Florida. (Source: The Washington Times)

This type of GPS reporting was both inaccurate and untrue  for crimes without a specific location. This could potentially raise questions, as it did by NBC 10 Philadelphia investigative team. They wanted to know why Philadelphia crimes were being reported to Fantasyland. This uncovered how long this practice has been going on within the department and prompted a change in this practice.

What Happened When Philadephia Police Didn’t have a Precise Location

In general, when a police officer submits a police report, they also log the GPS coordinates where the crime took place. This allows crime analysts to map out the crime data and compile statistics. It started to raise questions about why Philadelphia crimes were being reported in Disney World, a theme park in Florida.

NBC 10 Philadelphia reported:

“For more than a decade, if Philadelphia police officers made a typo or were unable to record a precise location for a crime committed in the city, the department would mark the incident with GPS coordinates inside Disney World in Florida. Specifically, the area behind Cinderella’s Castle known as ‘Fantasyland’ became the default location for inaccurate crime data.”

(Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

What is more mind-boggling is there was not any other location found inside the Philadelphia city limits with more crime than the crimes logged at Disney World, which shows how common this practice was within the police department.

According to NBC 10 Philadelphia, “over the past six years, more than 5,000 crimes — including 16 arsons, 50 homicides, and 298 auto thefts — were plotted to Disney World.”

It is obviously clear that Philadelphia crimes were not taking place in Disney World, and the GPS coordinates for the crimes should not have been reported in this manner.

The reason it was done this way, was all about the statistics.

It was done so it ‘Wouldn’t Skew’ the Philadelphia Crime Statistics

When NBC 10 Philadelphia news investigators brought this issue to the Philadelphia Police Department, their director of research and analysis, Kevin Thomas began to look into it, as he was “unaware” of this practice at the time he was first asked.

After looking into it, “he asked others in the department who said the choice to map certain crimes to Disney World was made more than ten years ago” and he added, “In no way was this meant to be in any way humorous.” (Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

The reason: They chose Disney World so these crimes without a location so would not affect Philadelphia crime statistics.

“It was just an innocuous location chosen within the U.S. that would obviously not have anything to do with Philadelphia whatsoever.” -Kevin Thomas, Philadelphia Police Dept. direct of research and analysis (Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

Philadelphia’s Police Reported Location-less Crime Against Industry Standards

Business Insider interviewed an expert, Christopher Herrmann, a former crime analyst supervisor from the New York Police Department.

“The practice of using a fake location for unknowns not only creates a false record, but having that option also creates an environment in which officers don’t feel they have to put in the extra effort to accurately map the incidents” -Chris Herrmann, a former crime analyst supervisor from the New York Police Department (Source: Business Insider)

According to Herrmann, “police departments should be able to accurately map at least 95% of crimes. At some departments that have been crime mapping for a long time, like the NYPD, the data can be over 99% accurate.” (Source: Business Insider)

For crimes with unknown locations, Herrmann says that it is a better practice to GPS log the crime somewhere that is clearly not the location of the crime — like the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — and not at Disney World or even the police headquarters.” (Source: Business Insider)

A Philadelphia Family Hurt by this Practice

One prime example of how this practice hurt a family is when Shineka Crawford lost her son in a shooting on the streets of Philadelphia. She found her son in the street on the 1700 block of 68th Avenue in West Oak Lane.

However, the Philadelphia Police Department marked the GPS location as Disney World.

(Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

“I can’t get that picture out of my head. The pain never goes away, and never gets better. It’s hurtful. He got murdered on the street in Philadelphia.” -Shineka Crawford (Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

Is this a Resolution or a Band-Aid to a Problem that Needs to be Corrected?

It should be noted that after NBC 10 Philadelphia investigated this story, the Philadelphia Police Department changed its policy, and "will now plot inaccurate crimes in the Atlantic Ocean." (Source: NBC 10 Philadelphia)

Perhaps an even better solution is for the crime reporting software to have an "exact location unknown" option so police departments do not have to inaccurately attribute crime to places it didn’t happen (including the Atlantic Ocean). The crime reporting software needs an update, so police officers don't continually have to find a workaround.

Sources

Freeman, Danny. “For Years, Philly Police Dumped Crime Data at Disney World.” NBC 10 Philadelphia. Published September 22, 2022. Updated on September 23, 2022

Matthews, Brad. “Philadelphia police logged crime data at Disney World for years.” The Washington Times. 24 September 2022.

Orecchio-Egresitz, Haven. “How Disney World’s Fantasyland was turned into an apparent crime hotspot by Philly police.” Business Insider. 23 September 2022.

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Zack writes news stories that impact local communities. He has a bachelor's degree from UAH and an MBA from the University of North Alabama.

Huntsville, AL
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