All 43 police forces across England and Wales have now published crime maps on the Internet, according to the UK Home Office. This means that people can access details of crime in the areas they live in via the neighbourhood crime maps scheme. What a monumental waste of time and resources!
As well as showing where crime is happening, helping to identify hotspots as it were, the maps also plot trends and provide a comparison with the rest of the country. The idea being, so says the Home Office, that the maps will "allow the public to see how local crime fighting partnerships are impacting on issues of local concern and give people the information they need to dictate local priorities." Say that again? While it might be of some passing interest to see information about burglary, robbery, theft, vehicle crime, violent crime and anti-social behaviour in your local area, I am at a loss as to how this is enabling in any real sense of the word. Certainly there seems little evidence that a crime map is suddenly going to empower residents to be able to change policing priorities.
Still, the Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker insists that he is "determined to give people the crime information which, as the Casey Review found, they want. Every single police force in England and Wales now has crime mapping. This gives comprehensive knowledge about crime patterns and hotspots to communities." Right, and that empowerment issue? "By empowering people with this information" Coaker argues "they are able to engage more with their neighbourhood policing teams. I am sure this will lead to an even more responsive and effective police, thoroughly in tune with people’s needs."
Not everyone agrees with his assertion that crime mapping can "help ensure people’s voices are heard when police set crime fighting priorities." Neil Rhodes, deputy chief constable of Lincolnshire and Association of Chief Police Officers lead on crime mapping, rather unsurprisingly does. He told us that "for many years, all forces have mapped crimes and incidents to help them focus investigations, analyse hot spots and tackle crime vigorously. The information now on the forces’ websites has a different more community-focused perspective and means the public can now look at crime levels in their community simply by putting their postcode into their local police force’s website."
Nottinghamshire police chief constable Julia Hodson said, ‘As a Nottinghamshire resident, I typed in my own postcode and was very encouraged by what I read" but then again I suspect she does not live in a tower block with drug dealers living next door. Maybe less time tinkering with maps and more Bobbies on the beat might help even more. Indeed, leave the Google Map Mashups to things that can actually make a difference like the Google Flu thing.