Someone is murdered in Washington, DC every couple of days. If it’s someone famous (or rich), that news makes a splash. It’ll be on television and in the paper, paraded across websites and memorialized by the powerful. If the person isn’t famous, the news will be almost nowhere. In fact, it might show up on a single site, HomicideWatch.org, the brainchild of Laura Amico created with coding?assistance?from her husband, Chris Amico.
Homicide Watch is built on shoe-leather reporting and data. Laura was a crime reporter in California for several years and Chris is a journalist/developer with NPR. Working together, they built a backend that served Laura’s need to keep track of victims, suspects, and the documents and dates from trials. With the new redesign, you can see how the database works and dig into the documents. It’s as much a system for tracking homicides as it is a blog about murders. Take a look at the map page and you can see how the data starts to fit together.
Two years after it began, Homicide Watch was on hiatus and its founders, Laura and Chris Amico, find themselves with the tin cup out on Kickstarter looking for money to sustain the site.
At the heart of Homicide Watch is its mission statement: ?Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.? It?s a remarkable thing to behold ? part database, part news site, it also serves as a kind of digital memorial for homicide victims in Washington. Their pictures are published, their cases are followed and their deaths are acknowledged as a meaningful event in the life of the city.
Neither The Washington Post nor the weekly Washington City Paper covers homicide comprehensively ? come to think of it, almost no major newspaper does. It is difficult but important work that current business models won?t accommodate, and Homicide Watch reaches an underserved community, since most of the victims are black.
But even though it has received all kinds of notice in the press and went from 500 page views a month to more than 300,000, it remained the handiwork of a wife and husband team.
How could Laura Amico handle covering every death in the city?
She shrugged it off. “The part that people expect to be difficult in reading all these charging documents and talking to the families is not difficult for me at all,” Amico said. Victims’ families regularly get in touch to express their appreciation, which makes it “tremendously rewarding” work. It is particularly easy relative to the traditional newspaper crime coverage she used to do, in which she was often asked to get the families to talk immediately after a tragedy.
Homicide Watch D.C. is part of a growing network of Homicide Watch sites across the United States. Homicide Watch D.C. was awarded the Knight Public Service Award by the Online News Association in 2012, was named an ?Open Gov Champion? by the Sunlight Foundation.
They?use original reporting, primary source documents and social networking to build one of the nation?s most comprehensive public resources on violent?crime.
The site relaunched in August 2011, adding a custom database to track homicide cases from crime to conviction, building the area?s most complete public resource for the people who need it most: victim?s families, suspects? families, and all others affected by violent crime in?D.C.