Crime maps by Christmas

A Home Office press release this morning makes the explicit pledge: ‘Every neighbourhood in England and Wales will have access to the latest local crime information through new interactive crime maps. […] By the end of the year every police force area will produce crime maps which will allow the public to see where and when crime has happened, down to street level for some crimes; make comparisons with other areas; and learn how crime is being tackled by their local neighbourhood policing team.’

On the face of it, that’s brilliant news. But five months to do this? That’s brave – especially when we’re looking at some pretty fundamental legislative questions, as highlighted on the Power of Information blog last week. The Guardian’s Free Our Data campaign blog has a few recent items along similar lines.

ID card debate hijacked

I wonder if the Home Office is regretting its MyLifeMyID website yet? The Drupal-based website, aimed at 16-25 year olds (for some reason?), isn’t having trouble attracting traffic… but unfortunately, a large chunk of its traffic is using the site to actually organise an anti-ID Card campaign.

This topic was always going to attract ‘undesirable’ use; and I’d personally have advised against an open forum model. But having made the decision to go ahead with it, I don’t think the requirement to fill in a complex registration form (age, gender, location, ethnicity) before commenting was smart.

I still believe there’s a case to be made for an ID system of some kind, based on the potential benefits to public services, if the technical hurdles can be overcome – or at least mitigated. We need ministers (or officials?) to accept there’s a massive engagement task here, probably the biggest currently on the government agenda; and to embark on a slow, sustained process to demonstrate that all the issues are being taken seriously, and that individual citizens will see real, direct, personal benefits as a result of it. And to accept that the public’s answer may still be ‘no’.

I’m not sure this site has done a lot to advance the cause.

Power Taskforce’s ideas on crime maps

The Home Office is confirming that it’ll press ahead with online crime mapping, as recommended by today’s Casey Report on Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime.

Even better, the Power Of Information taskforce – specifically Will Perrin and Tom Loosemore, in apparent association with designers Schulze and Webb – have posted a few concepts showing not only the mapping of crime data, aggregated to postcode sector; not only an overlaid layer of data showing public facilities such as schools, pubs and cash machines; but also the ability to actually do something as a follow-on. I’m especially intrigued by the RSS icon: blogging bobbies, perhaps?

Judging by the mockups anyway, we’re looking at some serious interaction potential: polling on local priorities, emailing the local policing team or your local elected representatives. (Never mind the possibility of interacting with the data.)

It’s not the first time some/most of this has been proposed: whilst working at National Statistics, I was involved in the concept work which ultimately led to the disappointing Neighbourhood Statistics. It’s not as if we didn’t have some of these same ideas… but mashing-up has come a long way since then, thanks particularly to Google Maps. I note the ‘presumption’ that Google’s technology would underpin these maps… another nail in Ordnance Survey’s coffin?