Tags : database manager

Data matching finds felons with N.C. gun permits

Gun control in North Carolina has always been a heated topic.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the decision by a suburban New York City newspaper to publish the addresses of local gun permit holders gave both sides of the North Carolina gun control issue ammunition.

And, as usual, much of the battle unfolded in the state’s General Assembly, where lawmakers introduced some two dozen bills related to guns during the 2013-14 session. Of all the bills, one gained particular interest among Charlotte Observer journalists.

North Carolina is one of 12 states with open gun ...

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Analysis finds non-competitive Canadian contracts

This data-driven investigation was years in the making.

The Canadian government has for some time required its agencies to report all contracts valued over $10,000. Along with travel expenses and grant awards, these contract announcements fall under what the government calls proactive disclosure. Each agency, or ministry, in Canada has a link on its website for these quarterly proactive disclosure reports.

The government, however, only posts online bare-bone details and one consultant who has raked in government work described it as “just a proactive way to bury information.”

The format in which this data is presented is not very ...

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Database helps show spread of foreign-trained docs

When I began covering health for The Bakersfield Californian, I frequently heard sources mention the high number of foreign-trained doctors serving the Central Valley.  So many of our county’s physicians, they said, had attended medical school overseas. Even within our newsroom, colleagues commented about their personal experience seeing international medical graduates for almost all of their medical care. We discussed how to cover a topic that seemed ripe for exploration – and especially relevant given the overall doctor shortage and recruiting challenges present in the valley – but too intangible to report in any substantial way.

Before we could do anything ...

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Assessor data key to probe of TN ag tax break

Last spring, investigative reporter Marc Perrusquia and I started poking around in the Shelby County Assessor's Office online database of property records, looking at properties owned by developers and local wealthy families that had “Greenbelt” designation.

The “Greenbelt Law” was devised decades ago to curb encroaching development by protecting farms, forests and open spaces from rising property values. The law allows undeveloped property to be assessed at a low “use” value rather than a generally rising market value. It was designed to keep farmers from being priced off their land.

Assessments work like this: The total appraisal of a ...

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First venture: Probing pipeline leak detection

I became interested in pipeline data after reporting on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. There was (and still is) a lot of debate about the pipeline's projected spill rate and safety. TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project, already has one U.S. pipeline, which leaked 14 times within its first year of operation. I didn't know if that was unusual, so I wanted to compare TransCanada's record to the leak rates from other companies.

That story eventually proved too much to tackle, but it led me to another story about leak detection. As it turns out ...

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Finding big-ticket bills in hospital data

 

I think most people are afraid of a hospital bill that bankrupts them. It’s why I pay more for a medical insurance plan with a cap on out-of-pocket costs and, more significantly, it’s one reason why so many uninsured or underinsured consumers avoid hospitals as long as they can.

Beyond that fear, there’s a public interest in minimizing the number of huge hospital bills. They cause insurance premiums to rise as costs are spread. They cause hospital charges for everyone to increase when uninsured patients don’t pay. And they deplete public treasuries as many large bills ...

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Data matching uncovers convict school cops

Until recently, getting arrested in Philadelphia for possession of crack cocaine and admitting drug dependency would not preclude being hired or continuing to work as a police officer in the public school system.

A month-long, data-driven investigation  by The Philadelphia Inquirer found that in more than a dozen cases school police were themselves getting into trouble with the law. Even an open bench warrant issued for one officer charged with a drug offense failed to trip the school district's alarm.

In another case, an officer who showed up in court to face charges after her second arrest for drug ...

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A look inside hospital discharge files

The right data can build the foundation of a great investigation, especially when it's used as a window into an area normally hidden from public view.

In our series "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas" for the Las Vegas Sun, Marshall Allen and I used hospital discharge records, available in some form in most states, to examine the quality of care patients received in Nevada.

Overall, the stories revealed some startling statistics on harm, infection and certain surgical misadventures for the very first time. Not only was it new information for Nevadans, counting the occurrence of falls ...

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Data digging uncovers unlicensed massage parlors

Houston’s massage parlors are as ubiquitous as the city’s trademark sprawl. And they’re mostly unregulated.

The Chronicle discovered hundreds of unlicensed parlors in the nation’s fourth largest city by digging through state and local databases and commercial websites.

We started with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which had a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of 100 of licensed operations on the agency’s website.

But a simple search on the Yellow Pages website returned more than 400 business listings for Houston.

So who’s watching the other 300?

To answer that, I sent out Texas Public ...

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