Crime rate website may serve right-wing politicians well

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.

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One Response to Crime rate website may serve right-wing politicians well

  1. James says:

    Well, sure it crashed. The demand spike was immense. No problem now 24hrs later.

    Its not JUST a Tory site – it was commissioned by the previous administration! The data has been publicly available for some time too – this site aggregates the information and, more importantly, exposes it to other application developers. As part of the data.gov.uk initiative, this has to be applauded. For too long we’ve been dependent on central initiatives to provide information from all the different government silos, one at a time. And then using it to enable joined up thinking was almost impossible.

    With increasing amounts of OUR data being exposed, we’ll see all sorts of people inventing new ways of using and presenting the data for different purposes,none of which are likely to be predictable. The wisdom of the data consumer is wonderful in its infinite variety!

    I’ve been taken aback by the negative response to this particular set of data being released (or aggregated anyway). Sure, there’ll be bad ways of using the stuff, but I can think of plenty of good things to come from it. Local accountability of local policing teams for example. Knowing who the local team actually is is pretty good. Getting people interested in whats going on in their street – how many streets don’t have the sort of community involvement that was commonplace 30-40 years ago?

    I don’t think anyone’s going to be surprised about the data concerning their own area but it might just galvanise some activity in places where there’s precious little right now.

    I’m not convinced of the case either for worrying about corporate users of the data, insurers, lenders and the like. They already have access to this data and more, in far finer granularity than you might expect too.

    Anyway what’s to lose? Reported crime goes down – result! Reported crime goes up – Tories have fouled up policing. Win – win!

    I’m in broad agreement with you on your analysis of the Cameron de-governance thrust (sounds like some sort of geological feature!) but on this one the plusses outweigh the negatives.

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