The police have launched new crime maps. The old crime maps used to show data by ward, the new ones purport to show crime by street. You enter your postcode and then zoom in on the map.
The maps don't show what happened to the crime – was an offender apprehended, successfully prosecuted and sentenced? Without this they are of only limited use in holding the police to account and won't do much for fear of crime. I wrote a long article on this when i first heard the more detailed crime maps were being planned.
The maps also do some very odd things with the data:
'To protect privacy, individual addresses are not pinpointed on the map. Crimes are mapped to an anonymous point on or near the road where they occurred.'
I don't get this – In general justice is seen to be done in Magistrates Courts. A tiny minority of crimes are privacy sensitve and would have the victim protected in court. Surely they can be filtered out. The Information Commissioners role in the background is odd – why would they not consult publicly and widely on how to handle privacy issues? Hidden away on the site is a curious map of 'offences brought to justice', by county, which isn't much use.
The 'on or near' descriptor the police use is worryingly imprecise given that the police don't explain how the aggregation formula works. This drags whole streets into the criminal problems of one or two houses or buildings such as pubs, stations etc. The aggregation points aren't exactly anonymous – they are outside or near to someone's house – it won't feel great to live at the crime aggregation point for a street. There seems to be a particular problem in areas that Google maps very badly such as high density social housing. Have a look at Carnoustie Drive around the Bemerton Estate for instance. Given that it's a government set of statistics why couldn't they use an Ordnance Survey (TM) map product that at least maps social housing areas?
There's no sign of a widespread consultation by the police nor the home office on how to do any of this. Given the importance of the data you would expect widespread consultation with Safer Neighbourhood Panels, Neighbourhood Watch etc. as well as victim support. The Home Office reached out to me after I wrote my article in December but it was clear by then that their minds were already inflexibly made up.
We need to know precisely where crime is occuring so that as a neighbourhood we can pull together to tackle it. This is especially important in a cuts environment. And needs to be balanced with privacy issues after public debate. At best these maps are a step on the journey to getting the information we need in communities – we still need information from the wider criminal justice system on what happens to crimes reported and greater accuracy.