by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
crime maps, maps, mashups, uk

UK Police Worried About Online Crime Maps

from the so-go-where-the-crime-isn't? dept

One of the first sites that kicked off the whole "map mashup" craze was Adrian Holovaty's ChicagoCrime, which showed the locations of crimes in Chicago placed on a Google map. The site has since been integrated into Holovaty's startup, EveryBlock. However, the idea of an online crime map is certainly now considered quite a useful concept. Unless, you're the police, apparently. Over in the UK, police are complaining about a proposed online crime map, saying that it will help criminals figure out how to go where the police aren't. Indeed, we've already seen that various police departments use data mining tools to try to predict where new crimes will occur, but it seems a bit overblown to suggest that an online crime map would really be such a problem.

First of all, it assumes that criminals are smart enough to plan out their crimes by going online and seeking out low crime areas ahead of time. While that may be true of a few, it seems unlikely that your average criminal is going to do that. Second, there's usually a reason why crimes cluster in certain areas, and it's not like criminals are suddenly going to run to a new neighborhood because an online map shows there's plenty of (or little) crime there. It seems likely that most criminals in high crime areas already know that it's a high crime area. And, if all these criminals suddenly run to low crime areas, then the police should be able to adjust, right? Worst case, they just send more patrols to the low crime areas, since according to their own logic, that's where the criminals will head. And that, of course, shows the fallacy of the police officers' worries. They know that criminals won't rush to low crime areas, or there wouldn't even be an issue here.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    some old guy, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 4:53am

    There are dumb criminals

    There are dumb criminals and there are smart criminals.

    These police are not worried about the dumb ones. The dumb ones are already fairly easy to track and catch.

    The smart ones tho... They are already hard enough to catch, arm them with advanced knowledge of police activity, and it just makes them that much more successful at what they do.

    But this is going to happen anyways, whether the police try and do something about it or not. I understand the police's concerns in this matter, but nothing they can do will actually prevent smart guys from getting info. So they best they can do is feign ignorance on the outside, and hope the criminals continue to think cops are too stupid to catch them.

    Good luck to you, Mr. Policeman, you're a braver man than I.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Ima Fish, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 5:32am

    "advanced knowledge of police activity"

    Letting people know high and low crime areas is hardly the same as letting out advanced knowledge of police activity. Lets face it there are plenty of "rich" areas with low crime because of the increased police activity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Ima Fish, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 5:41am

    There was a time when I would wonder why criminals were so stupid. There are plenty of rural areas where people don't even lock their doors, but yet no crime occurs. "Why don't those criminals get in their cars, take a drive into the country, and make out like bandits?!" I used to ask.

    The answer is that most crimes are done to solve an immediate need. A person wants crack now. He wants money now. He wants to get laid now. And these types of criminals usually do not have cars to travel long distances. So they're stuck stealing from their own surroundings.

    So my point is that the vast majority of personal property criminals know where the low and high crime areas are. They simply do not care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Martyburns, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 5:48am

    This is just retarded

    How can you know if there is low crime due to police presence or some altogether different reason, like there being no trees or back alleys in the area (making crime more difficult). So many things determine where crime takes place and going by the way the police are treated here in Britain I wonder if police presence even makes it on to that list. The police should just shut up and go revenue gather somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    matt, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 5:48am

    Re: There are dumb criminals

    If you are calling a map making it advanced knowledge, then obviously you don't know what a CB radio is.

    If you listen on the police channel for about an hour you could probably pinpoint half of a city's police. Let alone you could disrupt the sound on the channel (if you were really smart) so that the police couldn't use the channel themselves.

    So should we go after CB's instead? Not unless you want to make ham radio illegal.

    Come on, old guy (who should probably be called ignorant guy), you know better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:07am

    Here's an idea, how about we cover every inch of the county with around-the-clock audio/video surveillance, record every phone call, text message, email, chat and blog posting. Then we can employ 70% of the population to keep track of the other 30%. Think of how safe the children will be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Comboman, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:12am


    Are these the same UK police that have CCTV cameras on every corner? What they're really scared of is that these maps will show the public that these invasions of privacy do nothing to stop crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Paul`, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:12am


    War is peace, ey? Big brother is watching!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:23am

    Should the police be a little more worried about crime than just the fact that is reported and displayed for all the world to view.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:29am


    You are confusing Rent-A-Cops with real Policemen.

    Remember folks, "Metrowatch", or w.e it is in your area, is not the same as the "City of X' Police Force".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    It is rather silly. You can usually judge a neighborhood by walking through it during the day and once at night. I recently bought a new house (yea, totally not the poster child of today's economy) But you can get a feel for a neighborhood by just talking walks some time in the middle of the day and some time in the middle of the night. I also found plenty of reports on different neighborhoods I looked up telling me the crime rate, murder rate, average grades kids receive, whatever!

    I guess what I'm trying to say is if a criminal was smart and motivated committing petty crime is probably below them and not worth their time when they could just be a con and get lots more money safer and easier. Straight up crime is dangerous, they don't know if they are robbing a TV from and NRA member... or some other nut job that sleeps with his machetes...

    Anyways, these websites are incredibly helpful for people trying to buy a house. Probably less helpful to real estate and home owners trying to get rid of a house in a high crime location.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Ima Fish, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re:

    You're right that gated communities use rent-a-cops. But there are plenty of well-to-do public areas with plenty of real cops.

    My point is that the amount of crime bears no necessary or causal relationship to the amount of police activity.

    A high crime area might have more police activity to deal with the problem.

    A low crime area might have more police activity to ensure it stays low crime.

    To put it another way, there is imply no way a criminal could look at crime maps and figure out where the police are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    some old guy, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 6:43am

    Re: Re: There are dumb criminals

    Come on, old guy (who should probably be called ignorant guy), you know better.

    Of course I know better.

    All I did was explain the PoV of the cops and where the knee jerk reaction came from, then I explained why the knee jerk reaction was futile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Jim, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 7:36am


    Crime maps are probably not helpful at all for a bad police chief looking to get reelected. It'd be terrible for a chief if the voting population could go on the internet and look at the crime in the area (year by year) in an easily digestible way. It's a perfect report card for the local police. Who needs the accountability?

    As far as their argument, "smart criminals can access it too": it's just asinine. Many precincts already report this sort of data in a text format online. Not allowing it to be read by the voting public doesn't keep it away from smart criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Bob, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 7:36am

    There usually is a reason why Low Crime Areas Exist

    Most likely this is due to more Patrols, less population, and so on.

    Secondly, there are dumb criminals and then there are criminals that never get caught. Calling them "Smart" criminals seems to be an oxymoron. IF they were so smart, they would figure a way of using their resources and talents in a way that didn't put them directly in the cross-hairs of the Police.

    The Criminals that don't get caught are usually your high-end Cat Burglars. They can enter a house, steal something you will never miss, and leave, all without you knowing. These people usually do hit the Low Crime areas, mainly because that's where the rich people are and therefore they want more money on their return.

    I get my information from spending time as a Police Officer, and while I would like to say I have caught one of these "uncatchable" criminals, that just wouldn't be the truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    nasch, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:34am


    The ones who do it as a career also know some other things. The expensive easy to steal stuff is not in rural areas, it's in suburbs. Farms have some really expensive stuff, but it's things like combine harvesters. Suburban McMansions have computers, jewelry, silver, etc. Second, nobody pays attention to their neighbors in the suburbs. White van pulled up in your neighbor's driveway? Who cares? In the rural areas if someone knows their neighbor isn't home and there are unfamiliar people in the house they might be more likely to say something.

    I don't know how much of it is real, but Discovery's To Catch a Thief is at minimum pretty entertaining.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Howard_NYC, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    dumb v. smart

    dumb criminal: purse snatcher

    smart criminal: applies to NYU Law School, gets job with law firm focused on foreclosures of sub prime defaulters

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Howard_NYC, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:51am

    stolen bicycles...

    here in NYC, once upon a time, I had a bicycle... in fact a succession of four of 'em... every time each was stolen I tried to file a report with NYPD... and when I followed up a week later, there was no record...

    Q: anyone want to bet this is why the PD in the UK are unhappy? ...accountablity? ...audit trail?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 9:24am

    Other uses for the crime maps

    New in town? Looking for a place to find drugs and prostitutes? Have I got a map for you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Tony, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re: There are dumb criminals

    "If you are calling a map making it advanced knowledge, then obviously you don't know what a CB radio is."

    Just to clarify: "CB" radio is "Citizen's Band". Police band radio is not on the same frequency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Rockoon, Oct 27th, 2008 @ 12:51am

    Missing some points!

    The article arbitrarily suggests that "smart" criminals would or should go to low crime areas, and then wanders down a garbage-in-garbage-out conclusion fest based on that unjustified premise.

    If I was a crook, I would go where the crime already is! People are getting away with it there, silly! If the police were catching the crooks in those high crime areas, soon a low crime rate would materialize.

    Why would I want to gamble on a low crime area and the unknown reason for the lack of crime there? Low crime might be because of higher police presence. It might back because of a lack of anything good to steal. It might be because of a vigillante. No thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Brandon, Oct 27th, 2008 @ 8:22am

    Crime maps

    Like someone else mentioned before with CB radios, scanners, at least here in Indiana are perfectly legal (as long as you don't have them in your car for some reason) and some cities like Fort Wayne even have the police and emergency scanners online so you can listen in and they have a complete list of the codes that they use! While Indianapolis doesn't have the police scanners online here, the Indianapolis Star newspaper has a live updating map of the city that lists every 911 call location and what the call is reporting.

    I found the online police scanner very handy one night when I lived in Fort Wayne and there were four squad cars parked on the highway behind my apartment and occasionally driving through the neighborhood. Using the scanner I was able to determine they were searching for some escapees from the juvenile detention center. So it was helpful to know that instead of living with fear wondering what the heck was going on with all these cops around!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Walter Glenn, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 5:46am

    Constitutional Rights


    Fifth Amendment Rights on Self Incrimination

    How many times have you heard “If he didn’t do anything, then he’s got nothing to hide!” or “She’s ‘taking the fifth’ so she must be guilty.” Each time I hear statements like these I cringe, and we appear to be bombarded with this nonsense on a regular basis from as far away as Hollywood, to as close as a local radio talk show program, its host, regular callers and those pesky yet loyal FTLT’ers. The reality is, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution may well be the most powerful defense a person has available and there is absolutely no shame in flexing that muscle.
    Our Fifth Amendment, along with nine other amendments, collectively, the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791. Its roots run deep, finding connections with the Magna Carter, signed in 1215.
    Specifically with regard to our right to keep silent it states that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…” and believe it or not, the right was designed to protect INNOCENT people. Justice Robert Jackson, a former prosecutor, General Counsel for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Assistant US Attorney General and he was even the chief prosecutor for the Nuremburg Trials, said while sitting as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court “any lawyer worth his salt will tell a suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statements to the police under any circumstances.”

    The truth is, we have no way of knowing whether any statement made to the police might at some point be looked upon by a prosecutor as relevant in some other proceeding. Further to the point, it is my experience that clients tend to get somewhat exuberant in professing their innocence to the police and that such exuberance leads to flat out lying. That’s dangerous. Just ask Jeffrey Scott Hornoff. As you know he was a Warwick, RI police officer who was found guilty of murder. He spent six years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Had it not been for the murderer’s guilty conscience, Mr. Hornoff might still be in prison. The point is that Mr. Hornoff lied to the police during their investigation of a murder making it likely that he was convicted based upon his lie rather than the evidence. Had he just remained silent, the prosecution could not have damaged his credibility with his own contradictory statements. After all, if he lied about his relationship with the victim, then the jury surely could have seen him capable of lying about committing murder!
    Moreover, our Constitution makes it difficult to convict someone of a crime. It should! We live in a free society and we value our freedom so much that we’ve developed a system that places 100% of the burden on the prosecution when the state tries to take away that freedom. Why make it easy? In any event, prosecuting someone takes time. Why rush into an admission by speaking with the police? There’s plenty of time for that. That time also provides the accused with the opportunity to speak with counsel. Only then, should a person make an admission and certainly only in the event that the evidence makes a conviction likely.

    Remember if you’ve been arrested remain silent! You may find it difficult to do so because the police are very good at cajoling suspects into making statements, and quite frankly the innocent suspect will undoubtedly want to convince the police out of making an arrest or filing charges. When was the last time you heard of someone who was able to convince the police not to arrest the suspect based solely on the suspect’s own protestations. Never.

    I hope this essay has been helpful.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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