Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

Crime mapping coming more widely as government gets on board

New guidance will mean that there will be more crime mapping: a paper published by the Cabinet Office and written by Louise Casey, the government’s crime adviser (the one, you’ll recall, who said that some anti-binge drinking schemes were nonsense) notes, inter (very many) alia, that

Police forces are due to provide standardised local information on crime, starting from Summer 2008, as part of the Government’s new crime strategy3. Some are already providing local information but what will be available from the Summer of 2008 is likely to remain highly variable. We hope police forces will draw on the evidence in this review to develop the information they provide over the next year.

In particular, there is strong public demand for consistency in the content and presentation of information about crime across the country and a strong focus on action. In a survey of members of the public for the review we found that:

• 72% of the public said the format of police websites should be the same across all police forces; and

• 87% wanted to see the same format used by all forces for the information they provide.

Beyond this, we believe there is scope for better presentation of comparative information on crime and the performance of the police and other criminal justice agencies which would be of interest to the public. With advances in mapping technology, there are several examples of crime information available on websites that allow the public to bring up crime information mapped onto a neighbourhood. [Emphasis added – CA]

Mapping and interactive reporting tools are useful and careful consideration should be given to their development and presentation. [Emphasis added – CA] We believe some consideration should also be given to standardising the information they provide on crime, based on best practice, so that consistent types of information are presented to the public in a recognisable and user-friendly format. While the focus of existing sites is local, some consideration should also be given comparisons between areas. An end aim could be to ensure that information is available on a national basis, consistent between areas. This would raise the profile of such information with the public – and a consistent format would make sense to a more mobile population. [Emphasis added – CA]

Jacqui Smith, the secretary of state at the Home Office, responded:

“We plan to publish monthly local crime data and we will take forward the report’s recommendations on local crime mapping and making sure every household receives ‘Crime Watch’ style information about the local fight against crime.

Not sure where that leaves police officers like Brian Paddick who think it’s all too unbearable to countenance the public seeing crime data. But the idea has now been so thoroughly floated, it’ll be next to impossible to simply bury it.

There are of course wrinkles. Stuart Grimshaw, who tipped us off to this announcement, has written a letter to his MP asking what formats the data will be provided in. Which matters, rather a lot. Do we want to scrape PDFs or websites? No, we want a decent XML feed, please. Not hard. Perhaps the police could be issued with geotagging systems – take a photo at the crime, send it with geotags (which can be done with GPS-enabled phones). Aggregate data, remove precision as required by class of crime. Send to web server with RSS output. Job done.

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