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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.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Future of Policing

The future of policing is on the agenda again in the context of budget cuts. Sir Denis O'Connor, Her Majesties Chief Inspector of Constabulary (and champion of Neighbourhood Policing) has published "Valuing Policing. Policing in the Age of Austerity " I will be reading it in the next couple of days. The video above is obviously produced in the Netherlands. When I was carrying out Home Office sponsored research in the early 1990s into vehicle crime from the angle of police, insurance, registration authority, manufacturers, MOT etc information systems the Netherlands was about 10-15 years ahead of the UK as far as integration of systems were concerned, so a I expect that this is almost reality now, I will have to visit again soon.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Just a little bit more on violence and recorded crime

I am going to write another post about police recorded crime and then shut-up for a bit on this subject (unless provoked) and write about the geographic clustering of crime, disorder and policing data - the area that I have been working on recently.

Firstly why is the way police recorded crime is collated and classified important to me? I have a tendency to look at how such things are organised and say that's rubbish and try to reorganise things more logically. The end result may be an improvement but will inevitably have caveats and compromises which need to be explained, and basically it is a big job to do. So I am trying to adopt a more mature attitude and work within the given system. You may notice that I have used  Home Office (HO) Crime Type 1 - violent crime against the person when analysing relationships with deprivation. Let me explain the HO Crime Types. If you look at Table 2.04 on pages 31- 35 of this document you will see the police recorded crimes listed. If you really get into the subject you really need to also look at the counting rules here. There are 9 HO Crime Types:
  1. Violence against the Person
  2. Sexual Offences
  3. Robbery
  4. Burglary
  5. Theft and Handling Stolen Goods
  6. Fraud and Forgery
  7. Criminal Damage
  8. Drug Offences
  9. Other Offences
When this list was first compiled, probably over 30 years ago it may have made perfect sense but in that time there have been a miriade of new offences and legislation. The main problem regarding violence is the heiracy of classification gives priority to legislation over whether the crime involved violence. This means that crimes that include violence against the person in their definitions - sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated burglary and aggravated vehicle taking, and others where it is often involved, e.g. kidnapping,  rape, arson endangering life are not included in the first category. More bizaarly for the uninitiated is that the most serious public order offences such as riot and violence disorder are not included in the first category but the less serious ones are (under without injury). This is because the more serious offences are not specifically violence against people but violence against everything. In the same way indiscriminate violence such as bombing  is hidden in the criminal damage type. Terrorism offences seem to be totally excluded. I could go on but you get the message, a review is long overdue.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Charging a battery with salt ...... that must be wrong

I used to earn a few extra pennies writing multi-choice exam questions for police promotion exams. This involved devising scenarios where hair-splitting answers could be suggested with only one being the correct. Police Officers would learn legal definitions verbatim from training school onwards so to catch the necessary 25% or more out in an inspectors exam on questions on one of the more well known definitions such assault required splitting of hairs at almost sub-atomic level. All police officers know that the legal definition of an "assault" is "A person is guilty of an assault if they intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful personal violence." Battery " is the actual application of that personal violence, e.g. a slap to the face. Thus the Sherlock Holmes type phrase rarely used these days of "assault and battery". It is therefore legally possible to have an injury free assault, that is, an assault without battery.

In the police recorded crime statistics there is a category within the violent crime section of assault without injury. Over the last 10 years about 200,000 such crimes per year have been recorded, about a third of the total assaults recorded. Now if you thought that the offence being recorded was without battery you would be wrong. Appendix A of the Home Office Counting Rules of "violent crime" that can be found here states that these offences include  "Slap, Punch, or other attack leaving no visible mark or injury or a passing moment of pain." OK fair enough you may say but in practice these include quite nasty assaults because of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charging rules and the police desire to reduce the more serious violent crime. The charge for this type of assault is "Common Assault" which because it has a maximum imprisonment of 6 months can only be heard in a Magistrates Court. Many of the injuries could fulfill the legal definition of Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) but the CPS will not allow this charge unless they think the likely sentence could be over 6 months imprisonment (very rare) as this can be contested at Crown Court making the process expensive and more likely to end without conviction.

This is just one of many reasons why police recorded violent crime is not what it seems.

Disputing Violent Crime Statistics

David Cameron blasted for using dodgy crime figures to mislead MPs
Daily Mirror 15/7/10

This is a story that has been rumbling in the background for almost a year now. I have not specifically commented on it up to now because I really need to write a paper of about 20,000 words to explain why everyone is right but at the same time everyone has got certain things wrong. What has prompted me to comment now is that the government says it is going to conduct a review of the crime figures.

Where do I start? Probably best at the publication that is in dispute. This can be found here. This is a Home Office publication explaining the findings of the The British Crime Survey (BCS) and police recorded crime. Ironically, given the fact that it is being slammed by the new government, this is by far the best document of this nature that has ever been produced. For the first time the limitations of the statistics are accurately and comprehensively outlined. This is a grown up document for grown up people. The strength and weakness of the document is that it is researched and compiled by statisticians and quantitative social scientists. They are on firm ground when dealing with the BCS but they do not understand the subtleties of crime definitions and police recording practices of police recorded crime. Leading to the presentation of confusing police recorded crime statistics especially those relating to violence.

This is what the BCS shows regarding violent crime trends, clearly showing a increase up to 1997 when the Conservatives were in power and a decrease since 1997 when Labour was in power. Now this looks all too much like Labour Party spin doctor craftiness to the Conservatives. So they looked deep into the document to find police recorded crime statistics that appear to contradict the BCS figures. I have created a simple graph of these statistics that relate to violent crimes with injury.
The document clearly explains that because of different police counting rules this trend is misleading. The real problem is to do with the haphazard categorisation of crimes that mean that many crimes that are violent are not included in the violent crime figures. Some crimes that most people would not consider violent are. And the whole concept of violence with and without injury is often legally inaccurate. These are areas that the researchers and statisticians appear blind of. There are people in the police who know what is going on but as long as crime figures, especially those relating to violence, are performance indicators for the police it is not in their interest to let on.
I will explain further in future blogs.

Friday, 16 July 2010

London Murder Map

James Cheshire a fellow PhD student at UCL,  his Spatial Analysis blog is here, sent me a link to this murder map of London. It seems to date from the beginning of 2008.

I am always a bit wary of recommending something of this nature if I do not know who is behind it because there are many agendas out there. But having had a look through this site I am impressed with detail of the content and its journalistic style, though I cannot vouch for it accuracy and comprehensiveness it appears authoritive.

It is well worth a look. Click here.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Everything changes but remains the same

Even though I have been away on holiday  - Mauritius, very nice thank you - I have been keeping an eye on developments in policing in the UK following the the General Election.

This is my brief analysis of events. I draw on my experiences of when  I was seconded to the Home Office on two occasions so I may have a few useful insights.

First and most importantly we have a new government in power. It is a coalition of Conservatives that tried to maintain in the election that we live in a broken society created by Labour and they will come in to fix it; and the Lib Dems who are ideologically against what they see as the erosion of civil liberties. The right-wing of the Conservatives also are opposed to the big state controlling individuals. So one Labour policy goes immediately - ID cards - a big mistake in the long run my opinion - but it is do with how it was spun by Labour as an anti-terrorist measure - its real benefit is as potentially a net cost saver by allowing state benefits and access to services such as NHS to be properly regulated and targeted for the first time.

Coming back to the allegation of a broken society and supposed rises in violent crime that accompanies the argument. The case was never convincingly made in the Election Campaign and most importantly no alternative strategies were or have been put forward. This may be the reason why the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is not the Home Secretary now. The fact is generally Labour had a pretty good record on crime and policing. The move to Reassurance Policing, Neighbourhood Policing and the overarching performance measure of confidence in the police was well researched, logically implemented and funded over a period of about 10 years. This along with the Drug Interventions Programme that recognised the link between heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine addiction and acquisitive crime has made a real difference to many peoples lives.

But (big but) in the Home Office we are talking politics (with a big P, small p and in fact any size of p you can think of). The new government has to be seen to fixing problems of the old regime with new policies. The first thing they have to do has been handed to them on a plate - they have to reduce cost. This was where Labour (and the Home Office) was at their weakest as they thought that the importance of a strategy was reflected by how much money was allocated to it. Actually a lot of  what happens in the police only needs a fraction of the money to implement than that which is made available. The money then goes to project managers whose only measure of success is have they spent all the money within the time scales, leading to waste on every level. So there is scope for improvement there which I fully support. This would include a rationalisation of the central police bodies at the top - at the last count there was the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), Her Majesties Inspector of Constabularies (HMIC), the Police Standards Unit (PSU) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), all good sources of employment for retired police officers (so not all bad!); and a rationalisation of oversight in London - the Mayors Office, the Metropolitan Police Authority and Government Office London. This is particularly urgent as the only big new policy that the Coalition Government has come up with so far is the introduction of locally elected police commissioners. This seems to be a Chris Grayling idea which has survived, see here. It is not clear to me how this will all work or even if it is desirable, what I do know is that it will be expensive, add another tier of bureaucracy and take at least 5 years to implement properly by which stage a new idea may be on it way in.

Lastly and probably most importantly for my research is the removal of the overarching performance measure of increasing public confidence in the police announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May, at the ACPO Conference on 29th June 2010. An interesting speech which is worth reading in full. It can be found here. Now this is where in my opinion spin and politics come in. Take this quote from the speech;

But targets don’t fight crime; targets hinder the fight against crime. In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime. No more, and no less.
The quote makes no logical sense in the cold light of day but thats by the bye. What she (and her advisers) are trying to flag up is judge me by whether crime is cut or not. This is clever politics because this is the one measure that is has been falling year on year and is likely to continue to fall and it is a measure that is totally manipulable by politicians and the police. We are not of course talking about crime here per sae. we are talking about the sub-set which is police recorded crime. In fact there is a very good case to say that rises in police recorded crime is a good thing. For instance, I am sure that police recorded crime in the shanty towns around Recife Brazil (see my previous blog) have a low level of police recorded crime (worth research) but that does not reflect the true situation.

The police service and the Home Office is like a huge oil tanker. It will not be easy or quick to turn round strategies regarding police confidence and they are likely to continue to be measures at local level over-seen by the new local representatives. Local crime statistics and crime maps will become more and more important for police accountability - see also Nick Herbert's speech on 23rd June 2010 here. This will call for a new generation of more sophesticated and comprehensive crime maps in the future. Co-incidently I am presenting a paper at the MapAsia Conference on 27th July 2010 in Kuala Lumpur entitled "Towards a Second Generation of Crime Maps for the Public" which discusses this subject. I will publish it on the blog once it has been delivered.

So what are my are conclusions. Everything changes but remains the same and there is plenty of need for my research out there!