Crime Maps

Maps to display levels of crime, nationwide, were promised by the Government last year. It’s great to see that they’ve finally launched. This is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, it’s only a small one. Some forces have collaborated, but most have their own maps — which seems very strange. Why not a central service? We have the National Crime Reporting Standards, so there must be some consistency in the data from individual forces. It seems rather strange to implement 40-odd websites that all do the same thing, not to mention inconvenient: people who live in areas that adjoin other police forces will have to check two or more sites to get a good idea of the levels of crime in their neighbourhood.

It also means that the quality of these sites is extremely variable: from the good, to the average, to the downright mediocre. Why didn’t the Met simply share — or even, sell — its nice Google Maps mashup to the other forces around the country? Why waste money reinventing the wheel?

We would also love to see an API, or at least some way to get these stats in a machine-readable format. We’d like to be able to take this data and play with it. We’d like graphs that compare levels of crime to population, mean income, number of CCTV cameras, number of police officers per person, proximity to alcohol retailers, or anything else that takes our fancy. Of course, not all this data is readily available, but getting hold of crime stats would be a great improvement.

Finally: there’s some speculation over whether these maps break the Ordnance Survey’s licensing terms. Said terms are extremely bad: expect programmers who work in this sector to go into histrionics if you mention them. The Home Office have said, more or less, that they’ll sort it out. Quite how, or what was decided, is unclear: Did the OS get a shedload of money, or did the government come to some arrangement? If it’s the latter, I hope it may go some way towards helping third-sector projects too.

In any case, despite all these gripes, this is a great development. Congratulations are due to all involved: hopefully, this is just the first of many such innovations to come.