Coding the “Uncategorized”

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Coding the “Uncategorized”

Bridget Dickens

Through coding, I’ve learned some variables take 10 seconds and the others will take 10 minutes to figure out. When I’m coding for tactic, I never know how long it will take because occasionally it is difficult to summarize a person’s crime into one value. There are many different ways to carry out a crime, and it is impossible for us to list them all. That is why we have the value “uncategorized”.

“Uncategorized” is the catch-all value for cases that do not fit under any other tactics. It includes cases of financial fraud, theft, and even scaling the Statue of Liberty. Given its broad nature, it’s easy to code more complex cases like this, even though in reality they would fit better in another category. I consider the crime’s nature and how it would fit into all other values before deciding it should be uncategorized. For this reason, it can be easier to associate an uncategorized case with another value at first glance. I am often inclined to code these cases as “various methods”, “criminal violation not linked or motivated politically”, or “unknown/unspecified/undeveloped”. However, there is a clear difference.

Emily Putney is a clear example of why we have this value. In 2009, Putney was grocery shopping with her boyfriend, Michael Watkins, when they saw a Hasidic Jew. Watkins harassed the man, shouting many racial slurs. As police arrived, Putney drove their car away and led them on a brief chase. I easily coded Watkins’ tactic as threat/harassment, but Putney was more complex. While she did not stop Watkins from shouting expletives, she did not join in either. Her only role was fleeing the police. I debated the merit of potential values. It was unclear if she was motivated by antisemitic beliefs or the desire to help her boyfriend. Because of this, Putney could not be coded as “criminal violation not linked or motivated politically”.

“Unknown/unspecified/undeveloped” does not encapsulate her tactic either. In our codebook, this value is defined as when a “specific tactic is anticipated, but, at the time of arrest/indictment, unclear.” Technically, Putney committed a crime. There was a specific tactic involved though it is not defined under value in the codebook. That is why the value “uncategorized” works. It is the only one that fits because it includes everything that does not work.

“Uncategorized” is a more recent addition to the codebook. Nevertheless, it is an important one. Without it, there would not be a value for more complicated cases that do not fit into our more traditional categories. Our codebook is constantly evolving so that we can be more inclusive and effective in coding these type of cases.

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