British crime maps

The British Home Office released a remarkably detailed set of crime maps for England and Wales recently, giving at least some data about reported crime down to the level of individual blocks.

The project has come in for criticism:


The newly released crime maps site are a fundamentally unreliable source of information, because they are subject to unreported changes by the police forces compiling them both before and after they are displayed, and the data will not be stored on the site for comparison over time, observers say.

There is also growing concern among developers who want to use the data to paint a picture of the UK’s crime and policing strategies that the maps will give a distorted picture of crime in neighbourhoods – and that the apparent transparency in publishing them instead hides behind-the-scenes decisions about what crimes to report.

Adrian Short, a Sutton-based developer, says that “what we’re looking at here isn’t a value-neutral scientific exercise in helping people to live their daily lives a little more easily, it’s an explicitly political attempt to shape the terms of a debate around the most fundamental changes in British policing in our lifetimes.” He accuses the maps of being “pseudo-transparency”, and says that the site is “worse than useless”.

Crime mapping is a treacherous business. The two best I’ve been involved with were the Star’s murder map, which was maintained from 2005 until last July, and a visualization of violent crime by census tract, calculated in such a way as to try to figure out a rate of reported crime related to the number of people in theory vulnerable to crime, including residents and people working in the area (which IIRC counted as a third of a person). The advantage of the murder map was that after several years worth of data had been gathered, patterns of homicide could be seen in a great deal of very local detail:

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