Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Public Crime Mapping Is Important

There are times that I really enjoy my job. Today was one of those times. At the agency where I work, we had a press event to roll out a public crime mapping application. This application called RAIDS Online from Bair Analytics takes crime data from our records management application and pushes it out via a Google Maps mashup to the public.

This means that anyone going to the site can view crime data reported to my department using a web browser and a computer connected to the Internet. They can query specific types of crimes, specific date ranges and even do some basic analytics like density maps and temporal analysis.

In addition to just being some neat technology, this application is important for the community where I work. For many years, crime data has been stored and used by police agencies, but is often not available outside those agencies. By locking this information up and not allowing the public access, we reduce our ability to partner with our communities to reduce crime.

A publicly available crime mapping application like this allows the community to understand the crime problems in their community better. Unless you are really active in your neighborhood, you might not always know if one of your neighbors two blocks away was burglarized. If you aren't aware of this, you might not think to report the teenager with a backpack walking through the neighborhood during the time he should be in school.

Armed with the knowledge of what is happening in your community, you are more likely to make the connection between crime and that suspicious teenager. Then, you will be more likely to pick up the phone and call police.

A few years ago, the public was informed of a burglary problem in the city where I work. There were a number of news stories about this problem that heightened the public's awareness of the problem. When this problem was fresh on their minds we started getting lots of calls from citizens reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. Before long we were catching burglars in the act right and left because of the calls of these concerned citizens. Had the public not been aware of the problem, they likely would not have made the connection and called police.

In the same way, it's my hope that making this information available to the community empowers our citizens to act in partnership with us. What is your agency doing to inform your community of crime problems in your community?

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