After all the fuss about my old crime maps and the crime briefing the council would send out to Neighbourhood Watch coordinators the government are the ones to ride in and save the day with their new crime mapping system.
You can read about the sad history of my crime maps in a post I published at the time, but the short story is that after 18 months of publishing them a complaint from Harrow Council brought them, and the council briefings I used to create them, to an end.
This was annoying, not least because we knew that pretty much every other council continued (and continues) to produce the same sort of crime briefing to inform their Neighbourhood Watch coordinators. But having been identified, we had to stop. This was, and continues to be, an incredibly sore point for many people who valued the regular briefing.
But now the government has come good on its commitment to providing ‘street level’ information on crime. I first heard that publication was imminent a few weeks ago, and was surprised when I was told how they would work, mainly because the Information Commissioner has been so insistent that this sort of mapping isn’t acceptable.
The new mapping site follows almost the same methodology as my maps did, using the central point for a road to spot map crime. But it has a lot more information than mine did, mapping anti-social behaviour, robbery, burglary, vehicle crime, violent crime and a generic category for all other crime. I’m convinced these work well in informing the public. In most cases, I suspect people will be surprised at how low crime is: when I was producing my maps people just assumed crime rates were much higher. But they are a valuable took which enable people to hold the relevant authorities to account.
I’d love to know what you think of them, but most of all I would love to know what the Information Commissioner thinks about it!
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At the risk of stating the obvious, this makes a lot of sense. There’s a danger that if we don’t trust people with some data on crime, it gets perceived as a problem that someone else needs to sort out. So rather than “there’s a lot of burglary in our street, what can we all (inc. the police) do to address this”, it becomes the simpler but less constructive “what is the police doing about it”.
Plus, I expect that having checked the data for their street (with the odd well-reported exceptions of implausibly high crime rates reported for streets next to major shopping centres or hospitals, which will no doubt get ironed out once the system beds in a bit), many people will find that the actual rate of crimes is lower than they think. Fear of crime can have quite a negative effect, and no-one ever believes statistics art a national level on the grounds that they must be politicised (a bit like unemployment figures) – it’s far better to go on the real evidence. Maybe these more local figures will be trusted more.
My concern with a lot of the criticism of crime mapping is that it’s letting perfect be the enemy of good. There is no perfect system of representing crime. I happen to think that spot mapping is the best, but recognise there are issues with it. Picking up on the few streets that have anomalies or errors diverts from the fact that for the vast majority of streets it is accurate, and for the vast majority of those people will find that crime is lower than they expected.
The problem now is what people do with it – it’s little use having a clear idea of the level of crime if you don’t then have the tools (or access to the tools) to do something to tackle it.