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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Towards Second Generation Crime Maps for the Public - the paper I presented today.

This paper briefly discuses the history and possible future of crime mapping for the public in the England and Wales with reference the politics, policy and policing decisions that have aided and at times impeded implementation. It fits in well with the theme of this conference, Map Asia 2010; “Connecting Government and Citizen through Ubiquitous GIS”.

First the politics: crime maps for the public was a Conservative Party policy initiative that became an election manifesto promise in Boris Johnson’s London Mayor electoral campaign in May 2008 (Conservative Party 2008). This made it clear that the politician’s view was that the purpose of crime maps is to provide police performance accountability to the public at a local level. Boris Johnson became Mayor of London on 2nd May 2008 and immediately required the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), which polices London, to provide crime maps to the public through the Internet. Figure 1 shows the website that was created by the MPS within weeks.

This prompted Labour Party Home Secretary to make it a requirement for all Home Office police forces in England and Wales to follow London’s lead. The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) became involved in providing a national solution that was launched in October 2009 -

It is obvious from the Conservative Party publication that they were expecting police to produce point data crime maps similar to those seen at Legal policy issues pertaining to privacy that were raised by the Data Protection Act Commissioner means that the greatest resolution visualised are choropleth polygons at Lower Super Output Area level (1) . Assistant Chief Constable Steve Mortimore head of the NPIA crime mapping unit speaking at the National Crime Mapping Conference on 10th June 2010 was confident that the arguments regarding privacy were moving in a direction that will allow police to publish point data for all but the most sensitive types of crimes. This sends the policy ball to the police side of the net: is the police data of sufficient accuracy and quality to allow public scrutiny? The problem is not that the data does not have geocoded attributes it is the fact that it is either postcode address or grid square based both of which provides problems with point accuracy. The MPS crime recording system provides one metre squared point accuracy using the national co-ordinate system. This is fine when the location is a residential premise with a small land area. Problems arise in public spaces and large premises where the location of the crime may be shown all to one point such as a road junction or an administration office based on the postcode address even though the crime may have occurred tens or even hundreds of meters away. The MPS (3)) incident recording system designed almost 30 years ago when computer memory was at a premium uses centroids of grid squares of 250 metres by 250 metres to locate incidents. Even though this is technically point data it cannot be regarded as accurately pinpointing the incident.

Another policy issue was tied up with copyright and licensing. It looked at one stage that the British Ordinance Survey (OS) could derail the crime mapping for the public initiative (Guardian 2008) based on its insistence on enforcing its rights. It seems that the OS overplayed its hand. In November 2008, after advice from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the Internet, Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister announced that OS had until April 2010 to release its mapping data for free re-use. This data can now be obtained from

What the politicians overlooked was the fact that police recorded crime data is an extremely complicated dataset which when applied to a local level is very difficult for even an expert to accurately interpret. The dataset is incomplete due to: the under-reporting and under-recording of crime; the counting rules which though logical are intricate; and the crime classifications which are only fathomable to those with detailed knowledge of criminal law statutes. The mere geovisualzation of the data does not simplify matters, it may further complicate by adding the dimension of the incompleteness and potential inaccuracy of location to the mix.

Another fact that the politicians conveniently overlooked was the fact that crime statistics are not trusted by the public as representing reality (UK Statistics Authority 2010). In 2001 police identified that even though official statistics were showing a reduction in crime the public’s fear of crime was rising. This mismatch was termed the Reassurance Gap (RG). The cause was attributed to the police activity over the previous decade that had pursued crime reduction targets to the detriment of making the public feeling safe and secure in their communities (Povey 2001). Radical changes in policing style were introduced because it was feared that the RG was to continue to widen confidence in police would decrease leading to a reduction in co-operation with police and compliance with the law (Hough 2007). These changes involved re-engaging with the public through the introduction of dedicated uniform foot patrol teams to each council ward(2) in England and Wales. This proactive, community based, problem solving, high visibility Reassurance Policing style had its theoretical justification in the crime theories of incivility originating from New Jersey, New York and Chicago (e.g. Wilson 1975, Garofalo and Laub 1978, Hunter 1978, Wilson and Kelling 1982 and Skogan 1990 reviewed in Taylor 1999) on the other side of the Atlantic and the Signal Crime Perspective from Surrey and London (Innes 2004).

The Incivility Theories and the Signal Crime Perspective emphasise the way in which incidents and crimes shape people’s fear of crime in their community. It is the incivility or in other words antisocial behaviour such as littering, graffiti, begging, noise and intimidating groups of youths that are all pervasive and unavoidable that is often of greater influence than the rare serious crime incident. This negative communication, so the theories assert can be mitigated by reassuring police activity that tackles the issues that are of most concern to the public. In this way fear of crime can reach a level that is in line with the risk victimisation.

The first generation of crime maps for the public have three major failings;

• they exclusively use police recorded crime statistics,

• they do not communicate police reassuring police activity, and

• they provide scant information about individual risk of victimisation.

Reassurance Policing is the now the primary policing strategy (though the name has disappeared in favour of the Neighbourhood Policing) with the introduction of the over-arching police performance indicator (PI) in late 2008 of increasing the public’s confidence in the police. Whether this PI and strategy will survive the change in government is yet to be seen. What will definitely survive and flourish, with the Conservative Party as the dominant partner in the coalition government, are crime maps to the public as a means of providing police transparency and local accountability (Herbert 2010).

Research is being undertaken by the author to link police activity to the public confidence PI through geographical analysis using data from Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) information systems. A product of this research is identifying how police activity can be mapped and scientifically compared at different locations. The methodology being used provides ample information about how second generation crime maps for the public can be created that address the deficiencies of the first generation maps.

The methodology involves populating five domains with relevant data. These domains are;

• Police activity

• Public demand on Police

• Characteristics of victims and offenders

• Characteristics of people and place

• Public attitudinal survey regard policing and crime

The links between first and last domains can be isolated and analysed by understanding variations in the other domains over space and time. Variations in the occurrence of different types of crime can be explained in terms of the different combinations of likely offenders and likely victims at likely locations and at likely times. This is illustrated in figure 2 below that is the part of a pilot study for the research in the London Borough of Camden using data from the characteristics of victim and offender domain which are drawn from the police crime recording system.

The risk of being a victim or an offender of crimes varies with gender, age and lifestyle. A variety of second generation crime maps for the public need to allow risk assessments that are crime type, location, time, gender and lifestyle specific. This information should provide a realistic level of the fear of crime leading to appropriate crime prevention actions, reduction in crime and increased confidence in the police.

Understanding of variations of the characteristics of different places allows crime patterns to be more intelligently analysed. For instance, the “pickpocket person” map in figure 2 shows hotspots that co-inside almost exclusively with areas of restaurants, public houses and other entertainment venues (robbery person occurrence is a little more diffuse). Lifestyle in the context of this research not only refers to whether or not people go to restaurants and public houses but other factors such as income, type of housing and employment. Geodemographic classifications (4) and the English Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2007 (Noble et al 2008) (5) are used in the characteristics of people and place domain. Regression analysis of the homes of victims of crime and the IMD has been carried out in the London Borough of Camden. This has found that people that live in areas of higher deprivation have a much higher risk of victimisation of violent crime (that is recorded by police) than areas of lower deprivation, even when these areas border each other. This points to lifestyle associated with income.

Figure 3 shows the analysis of the interaction of the public demand and police activity domains. It can be inferred that people living in the grid square highlighted have less confidence in the police than people living in other grid squares where the response rate to emergency calls is faster and where police have tackled the underlying problems causing the calls to be made. The publishing of such maps to the public of incidents rather than just recorded crime gives a more comprehensive picture of the crime and disorder problem at locations and makes police accountable for addressing them fairly and effectively. In the England and Wales police act in partnership with borough councils to address local crime and disorder problems. Consequently the Councils collect valuable data regarding antisocial behaviour such as littering, noise and graffiti; and also logs of CCTV observations. This data gives further insight into the characteristics of place that gels with incivility theories and which is pertinent to analysis of police demand and activity.

The interpretation of police activity data is complex. One of the best sources of such data is Global Positioning System (GPS) signal data transmitted from marked police vehicle’s mobile data terminals

Figure 4 shows an example of those transmissions mapped first within ARCGIS, the layer converted into a KML file and then mapped on Google Earth. Foot patrol Officers’ personal radios transmit GPS signals but these are not stored at present and therefore not available for analysis. These GPS signals provide intriguing possibilities for the second generation of crime maps. Reassurance Policing and its protégée Neighbourhood Policing is about police forces demonstrating visibility, accessibility and familiarity. This resulted in an emphasis on high visibility foot patrols. Is it going a step too far to include live feeds of police patrols to crime maps for the public? A website showing the position of London Underground trains in real time demonstrates how this could be done (6).

Finally the attitudinal data domain: the British Crime Survey provides the data on a force wide basis for the overarching performance indicator of public confidence in the police on a yearly basis. Additionally the MPS employ consultations to carry out surveys four times a year into public confidence that is calculated down to LSOA level. This information is not made available to the public. It should be included in a second generation crime mapping system.

Up to now politicians have taken the policy lead regarding crime maps for the public. With police funding cuts looming after the 22nd June 2010 Budget it is time for the police to seize the initiative and demonstrate that police activity does make a difference to communities and individuals. The best way to do this is to introduce radical new second generation crime maps for the public that offer engagement and communication at a local level (7). This paper makes suggestions as to how that may be done.

(1) These are population census areas of an average 633 household and 1500 people. There are 4765 such units in London.
(2) A council ward a census unit which on average contains about 7.5 LSOAs and is also the smallest administrative and electoral unit in England and Wales – each ward has an elected council on the borough council
(3) The MPS police London
(4) “analysis of people by where they live” (Sleight 1997 quoted in Harris, Sleight and Webber 2005 page 2)
(5) the collation of data pertaining to place with reference to people who live and work there.
(7) London Community Policing Partnership (LCP2) carries out consultation seminars throughout London twice a year, community engagement and communication between the police and public are consistently rank as the top two topics out of over a hundred. See for more information.
Works Cited
Conservative Party. (2008). Giving The Public A Crime Map Using Technology To Fight Crime. London: Conservative Party.
Guardian Newspaper (2008)
Harris, R., Sleight, P. & Webber, R. (2005), Geodemographics, GIS and Neighbourhood Targeting,
Wiley, London.
Herbert, N., (2010) Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice in a speech on the 27th May 2010 at the Ipsis Mori conference entitled The Future of Criminal Justice. The Impact of New Policy, Fewer Resources and Public Influence. Church House Westminster
Hough, M. (2007), Policing, New Public management and Legitimacy in Legitimacy and Criminal Justice, Edited by Tyler, T., New York: Russell Sage Foundation
Hunter A (1978) Symbols of Incivility at the 1978 American Society of Criminology (ASC) conference
Innes, M., (2004) Signal crimes and signal disorders: notes on deviance as communicative action. The British Journal of Sociology 2004 Volume 55 Issue 3
Kelling,G., Pate, A., Ferrara, A., Utne, M., and Brown C., (1981) The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. Washington: Police Foundation
Noble, M., McLennan, D., Wilkinson, K., Whitworth, A., Exley, S., and Barnes, H., Dibden, C., (2008) English Indices of Deprivation 2007 Communities and Local Government: London
Povey, K. (2001) Open All Hours – A Thematic Inspection Report on the Role of Police Visibility and Accessibility in Public Reassurance, London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
Skogan, W (1990). Disorder and Decline: Crime and the Spiral of Decay in American Cities. New York: Free Press
Taylor, R., (1999) The Incivilities Thesis: Theory, Measurement, and Policy, in Measuring What Matters, ed. Robert Langworthy, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice,
UK Statistics Authority (2010). Overcoming Barriers of Trust in Crime Statistics: England and Wales. Monitoring Report 5. London: UKSA
Wilson, J., (1975) Thinking About Crime. New York: Basic Books, 1975
Wilson, J. and Kelling, G. (1982) Broken Windows – The Police and Neighborhood Safety, The Atlantic Monthly, March 1982, 249 29-38.

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