As we laid out when revealing the Cost of Crime in London last month, the TPA believes strongly in the principle and the practical benefits of giving people as much information as possible about the (mal)functioning of our public services. Crime mapping, widely used to great effect in the USA, is a particularly good example of that, so it's encouraging to read that Boris has been offered a chance to put it in place in London.
Crime is undeniably the top concern of Londoners. The Government can harp on all they like about the amount of recorded crime falling (although violent recorded crime has risen), but people know that their experience is contrary to that. Between a growing feeling that there is no point reporting crime to the police and a shameful raft of administrative measures introduced by the police to reduce the number of crimes that are recorded.
Fundamentally, people feel that they are not being listened to, that the authorities do not care about their suffering and that once a crime is reported it all too often disappears beneath a pile of paperwork, never to be seen again.
Crime mapping is one powerful tool to correct those failings. By publicly mapping reported crimes by type, date, time and location, not only do the victims have solid evidence their crime is on record, but the police are made more accountable to the people they are meant to protect and serve.
If there are particular blackspots for crime, taxpayers will notice them and raise them with the police. Politicians can be put on the spot about any failure to deal with ongoing problems (though that would be even easier if we had directly elected police chiefs, of course). Some cities, such as Austin, Texas, also map arrests, so you can see justice being done, too. The above map shows a current US crime map, where the blue men represent thefts, the masked faces are burglaries, the guns are assaults and the handcuffs are arrests.
It's all grounded in one fundamental principle: we pay for policing and we rely on policing so we should have the right to see whether it's working and to demand improvement if it falls short of expectations.
There are naturally worries that police forces might not want to give up the information, but tough - this is not a private commerical data source, it is a record of crucial events in the lives of the individuals and communities whose security is the police's raison d'etre. We pay the Bill's bills, and if they don't do their job properly it is us who suffer, not them, so there can be no room for petty hogging of data.
This is a great opportunity to harness the popularity, ease of use and intuitive design of services like Google Maps and bring it to public service delivery. At the moment the police are too difficult to engage with and bogged down in bureaucracy and political meddling. This technology provides an opportunity to sweep that away and replace it with an accessible way for the public to hold the police accountable and for the police to demonstrate their work to the public.
It's encouraging to hear, then, that Colin Drane, founder of American crime mapping website Spotcrime.com has offered to do a London crime map for free, which chimes in well, naturally, with our budget-controlling instincts. Whether Boris takes Drane up on his offer or uses another platform, it's imperative that he grabs Crime mapping with both hands. It would be the first step to a safer city, more effective policing and a happier populace.