Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Round-up: Freedom of Crime Information

The launch of the new police.co.uk website with their online crime maps caused a public sensation recently and overloaded servers with an estimated 50m+ hits in the first couple of days alone.

Local reaction has also been forthcoming to expose the debate more fully.

Laura Herbert reports the launch was 'broadly welcomed' locally.

Home Secretary, Maidenhead's Theresa May MP explained of the launch, "This is a major achievement, reconnecting the police and communities through the power of information."

Reading Area Commander, Superintendent Stuart Greenfield, praised the concept, dismissing questions about the prospect of rising fear of crime,
"Most people are concerned about crime figures and why shouldn’t they have detailed information?"
He argued that wider public access to information helps set the agenda and this is actually the best defence against becoming a victim - which corresponds with the recent shift in policing policy to place more emphasis on prevention rather than detection.

Caversham's webtools expert Karen Blakeman follows up with an in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the police.co.uk website.

In a top quality post she engages with the reasons why residents would be interested in finding out more information.

Karen recalls it is less than 2 years since Thames Valley Constabulary launched their own CrimeMapper site, which gave a clear overview of the general levels of crime in a neighbourhood. Version 2.0 is integrated into a national site and comes with the promise of detailed data and "many other enhancements".

As a communication point to connect with local policing teams it works well, she says, but since the government's Information Commissioner intervened to advise against "tying crime reports to postcodes or streets with fewer than 12 addresses," protection of privacy for victims means accuracy of information on locations has been compromised.

The datasets are limited to one month, down from three months, while they also no longer provide comparisons to show the trend in the area (though this may be due to the street-specific focus, where low volumes reduce relevance).

Furthermore, the website notes make it unclear how the data has been categorised, which allows users to make unjustified assumptions. She is convinced greater openness to allow users to manipulate the data and create their own visualisations would be a bigger help in understanding how to protect themselves and their property.

She argues these are three major problems with the website and that for all the money spent on the website and the potential it offers it actually represents 'a retrograde step'.

In conclusion Karen makes a final plea:
"We need transparency and clarity rather than the muddle and confusion that has been generated by the lack of information on what is being provided."

Elsewhere Reading West's Alok Sharma MP gets down to the politics of the issue:
"Under the previous government the police were directed by Whitehall diktat. They spent their time chasing centrally-defined targets, not responding to the needs of local communities they were supposed to be serving."
LibDem challenger Cllr Daisy Benson agreed, taking a residents-first approach,
"It is always a struggle to get people to report crime - hopefully this website will encourage people that crime reports are taken seriously."
But opposition Labour party activist Peter Kayes was less enthusiastic about being sidelined, "I don’t think it is a great revelation," asserting that current ad-hoc arrangements within Neighbourhood Watch groups are 'more efficient' at spreading information.

And prospective Green party politician Adrian Windisch argues he doesn't need a website to find criminals - he claims that he can find plenty of them currently residing in the Houses of Westminster. To prove his point he links to a year-old pre-General Election report on bbc.co.uk!


Previous Reading List: Online maps for local crime statistics

More local crime stories


  1. I was going to say welcome back but this is a return the the old ways.

    So your saying that as long as a crime is a year old it no longer counts? I suggest you stay away from politics.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I'm sorry for my stupidity, but please can you explain what you mean?

  3. "To prove his point he links to a year-old pre-General Election report on bbc.co.uk!"

    Whats wrong with a year old report? Is there a 'sell by' date for crime?

  4. thanks for getting back, Adrian.

    Four points:

    1) You wrote that you don't need a website to find criminals, then you used the BBC website... so there is a clear disconnect between what you said and what you did.

    2) about 1/4 of the MPs were not reelected at the GE. Those who committed criminal offences have been or are being tried, and those who could be shown to have acted in bad faith were largely prevented from returning in one way or another, either by their parties or by the public.
    So the people you're angry at are no longer in Parliament, and your claim is wrong in practise.

    3) there are several parliamentary conventions along the lines that 'lawmakers may not be lawbreakers'. If question marks can be raised, then any individual will be subject to internal scrutiny and possible sanction.
    Even if it were true at one point Parliament is bound by due process to ensure cannot remain true, and your claim is wrong in principle.

    4) If you cannot be dissuaded that Parliament is a club of crooks, why are you so anxious to gain membership?

    I don't question the sincerity of your feelings, but the factual basis and methodology you used for reaching your stated conclusions is inaccurate and unreliable. And on those grounds it would be easy to consider your opinions less consciously reasoned and more automatic assumptions.

    In the same way you put words into my mouth which were completely unwarranted.

  5. You didnt read my post.
    'You can look at a new website www.police.uk that shows crime hotspots. Its been overwhelmed today, but to find criminals I dont need this website.

    I already know one address where lots of criminals work, the houses of Parliament. Something like half of MPs are guilty of illegally claiming expenses. Strangely they are not being arrested. Perhaps I should call the police.'

    Some were removed, a small number arrested. Most of those who fiddled the expenses are still there, as I dare say you know.

    So no disconnect. As I have said, roughly half were crooks, not all as you claim.

    You still havent answered the point, do you still think that after a year a crime no longer counts?

  6. Interesting that you're already backtracking to say 'were' now, whereas you earlier said 'are'. A subtle but not insignificant shift.

    Any more concessions in the pipeline, Adrian?


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