feuer: the mayor’s geek squad
it was a case for a digital sherlock holmes. last fall, the city’s department of environmental protection wanted, finally, to crack down on restaurants that were illegally dumping cooking oil into sewers in their neighborhoods — congealed yellow grease is responsible, the department says, for more than half of New York’s clogged drains. The question, of course, was how to find the culprits?
the antiquated answer would have been to have the health department send inspectors to restaurants on blocks with backed-up sewers and hope by chance to catch a busboy pouring the contents of a deep fryer into the street.
enter the city’s office of policy and strategic planning, a geek squad of civic-minded number-crunchers working from a pair of cluttered cubicles across from city hall in the municipal building. they dug up data from the business integrity commission, an obscure city agency that among other tasks certifies that all local restaurants have a carting service to haul away their grease. with a few quick calculations, comparing restaurants that did not have a carter with geo-spatial data on the sewers, the team was able to hand inspectors a list of statistically likely suspects.