Reports that the new local area crime figures website crashed within minutes of its launch today (1 February 2011) do tempt a wry smile and a weary ‘as ever…’..
The site is intended to show numbers of offences reported in any local street, by entering a street name or postcode. Home Secretary Theresa May claims the maps will give real facts on crime and anti-social behaviour and make police more accountable. (Isn’t that her job? And why is the website called www.police.uk, if it’s to bring that very organisation to account?)
But it’s difficult to believe anything anyway when the message coming up (I just tried it for my own postcode) is: No event details are available for this neighbourhood. Please contact [your local] Police to request that they add this information.
There are however far more serious concerns here than ‘just’ the £300,000 cost and the instant techno incompetency.
Firstly, I can immediately think of several reasons why such figures, presented as though set in stone, should not be available at such a micro- level:
* There are always fluctuations over time in these sorts of statistics, as well as, invariably, errors, but few people understand how to develop a view of the bigger picture.
* The police-stats version of planning blight will without doubt start to harm certain areas, to the benefit of others. Lower house values, harder-to-get mortgages and even more fussy insurers in some locales are only the beginning… This feels like ghetto labelling for some places.
* Crime stats are based on what is reported. My guess is that, in some areas but not others, such a website will encourage a greater level of future reporting – which will skew those localities’ figures upwards.
Then there are the second sorts of objections to this website: It may, even with safeguards, breach individuals’ privacy and in some localities it may encourage a rather unpleasant sort of vigilante. On reflection, perhaps this is the sort of thing Prime Minister David Cameron meant when a while ago he referred to the ‘Big Society’ as having ‘little platoons’.
And, finally, Police funding is now being reduced, so we can probably expect to see a reduction rather than increase in policing performance, as reflected in crime rates as reported.
Plus, in fact crime figures have been going down over the past decade; but it’s a fair bet that, with inevitably increasing unemployment and poverty over the next few years at least, this downward trend will now reverse.
So why should the Conservatives decide, at this time of enforced frugality and with many other things to attend to, that they want an expensive (and currently embarrassingly bad) website about local crime rates?
You can make up your own mind, and perhaps I’m being cynical; but don’t forget this: Against all logic – psychology is stronger than rationality – when crime, or fear of crime, goes up so, traditionally does the right-wing vote.