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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Public access crime information site opens across America

31 January, 2008
The 1st of February sees Montgomery County join the growing list of US police jurisdictions signing up to, a Google Earth based website that pinpoints acts of crime across America as they occur.
Displaying date, address, type of incident and other optional information, the intended purpose of the site is to let people in the neighbourhood know if anything is happening in their area so that they can stay out of the way and protect themselves. Honourable intentions but human nature being what it is, its likely to have the opposite effect, attracting voyeurs and onlookers. Apart from its intended purpose as a public information tool, which seems quite a weak reason to spend the hundreds of thousands needed to set up and maintain the log given the scant information it provides, I can't see the value that the site adds to the community. As a record of crime for cities and police jurisdictions, it doesn't add anything to the information that is already retained for the statistical agencies .

The cost is the main stumbling block an according to a recent press release from Public Engines who run the system, the state of Utah has recently earmarked 150,000 dollars to run the project for the first year. Extrapolate that across the other states and that adds up to around seven and a half million a year which would fund some proactive community policing schemes such as a retail shoplifting notification scheme in real time using SMS for example.

Curious to see what the site was all about, I had a sneak preview of the Montgomery County launch and went on a pan American crime hunt on Crimereports. New Orleans seemed a good place to start so I logged on, tuned in and was disappointed to find that in a search period of 14 days, I was presented with a message saying "0 of 0 available crimes shown".

Satisfied that New Orleans has been crime free for the past fortnight, I travelled over to San Jose which turned out to have had a similarly quiet two weeks. The same was true for Utah and Washington DC, in fact I couldn't find a single incident to review across the whole continent.

The use of modern technology for community policing and public information should be encouraged of course but the system has to be convincing and the information given has to be carefully selected so as not to encourage ambulance chasers and so as to enable residents and business owners to take some protective action.

Informing residents of a spate of burglaries in specific districts is useful, reporting an isolated case of tulip theft in sleepy hollow isn't.
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