Standing up for crime mapping

Texas_crime_mapping_2The Today Programme had an interesting piece on crime mapping this morning, which you can listen to here. I've written before about the TPA's support for crime mapping - it's a great way to make the police more accountable to the public they are meant to protect and serve, and to involve the public in making neighbourhoods safer.


The BBC's Justin Webb presented an interesting and well-argued piece about his experience of crime mapping in Washington DC, where the map can inform personal decisions and business precautions. If you know particular crimes are common in particular places you can react accordingly. As Webb says, it does not necessarily address all of the root causes of crime but it does make you wise to potential threats.


Before I go on to address the criticisms that Evan Davis and Brian Paddick made of crime mapping on this morning's programme, there's an important question to ask: where on earth were the Conservatives?


Boris Johnson has pledged to introduce crime mapping in London, and the Conservatives have been supportive of the idea, so it beggars belief that they weren't willing to put anyone up for interview to promote or defend the idea on the BBC's flagship current affairs radio programme. By failing to put anyone up, they were empty chaired  and Paddick was given a free run at the idea, laying into it without anyone to argue in its defence. (It should be said that if Today are lacking someone to speak up for crime mapping in future, the TPA would be happy to stand in!)


The first query raised over the idea was the Information Commissioner's concerns that publishing where crimes happen could invade the privacy of the victims - concerns which, incidentally, I can't find online anywhere, but they were referred to by the presenter. This is easily solved by the methodology used. Where a mugging or assault happens outdoors you can map it precisely to the spot with no danger of identifying people. Where a particular house is burgled, damaged or invaded you map it within 100 yards or by street. Where there are extremely sensitive crimes you can map a wider distance if required.


Brian Paddick then raised the spectre of stigmatisation of particular areas. This is an odd argument - at the moment areas get bad reputations for crime levels simply by word of mouth, and such reputations are haphazard at best. Some areas get unfair reputations, which can stick for much longer than they are accurate. An accurate map recording the crimes actually committed means areas won't be at the mercy of rumour any more.


If an area has high crime, people deserve to know before choosing to move there - that's not stigmatisation, it's informing people so they can choose how and where to live their lives. Would Brian prefer we tricked people into living in areas where they might be at risk by keeping the crime rates secret?


Nor is there any basis to Paddick's suggestion that accurately reporting high levels of crime where it occurs leads to "victimisation". If anything, these maps will really drive home the seriousness of the crime problem in some areas and encourage people to demand that the police deal with it.


The former Lib Dem mayoral candidate also mentioned the success of the CompStat process in New York, which increased the internal individual accountability of different area police commands. He's right, but why do the Met use a softer version of it? Shockingly, he said that

It's not a very British thing to hold people publicly to account in front of their peers

It might not be very widespread in the Met, but that could explain why you are more likely to be stabbed in London than in New York, couldn't it? Most organisations do exactly that - and public bodies should also hold managers to account in front of the taxpaying public.


Crime mapping is a great idea that holds a number of benefits. It's just a pity that there was no-one on air this morning to give it a fair hearing.

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