NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2010
CrimeReports.com – The National Crime Map
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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At present, over 600 law enforcement agencies are participating in an online service, CrimeReports.com. Claiming to be the largest crime mapping network in North America, CrimeReports.com gives people the information that they need to help protect them from crime, and also offers crime prevention information. Seamlessly integrated with Google Maps, CrimeReports.com displays up-to-date crime information from any of the 600 participating jurisdictions located in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to crime information, this service also displays the locations of registered sex offenders in all 50 states. Being internet based, the service can be accessed by anyone for free, and does not display any advertising banners or other commercial information. While viewing the service is available to anyone at no charge, CrimeReports.com is funded on a subscription basis by the participating law enforcement agencies with monthly rates of $49 for college and university police departments, $99 for small towns (under 50 thousand population), and $199 for larger towns and cities.

Upon accessing the website, the user is greeted with a clean interface displaying a U.S. map, and a Google search bar. Clicking on an active state will display a scrolling list of the participating jurisdictions. Clicking on a jurisdiction will display a Google street map. The user can select a time period to display (3, 7, 14, 30 days, a specific date, or range of dates), types of crime, or distance from a specific address. The display of registered sex offender residences can be turned on or off as desired. Alternatively, a street address, city and state, or zip code can be entered in the Google search bar, and the map will be centered on that location. If the location selected is not in a jurisdiction that subscribes to CrimeReports.com, then only registered sex offenders will be displayed; but if the location is in a participating jurisdiction, then a detailed crime map will be displayed. As with all Google Maps, the user may choose to display a conventional street map (the default display), a high resolution satellite image, a hybrid map (satellite image with street names overlaid), or a terrain map. The Google Maps display can also be zoomed in or out by manipulating the slider bar in the top-left corner of the map, while options are displayed on the bottom-right margin of the map to show a “printer friendly” display, a “distance guide” that displays distances as a series of concentric circles from the given address, and a “legend” which defines the types of crimes based on the icons shown.

From the CrimeReports.com front page, I clicked on Texas on the national map, and a listing of 37 Texas subscribing cities was displayed. Scrolling through the list, I found that my home city was not listed, but does display local registered sex offenders. The closest participating city to my home is Jasper, Texas, so I clicked on the Jasper link on the pull down menu. I zoomed in centering on the center of town, and the crime map was very easy to read. I selected the most recent 14 day period, and the incidents were clearly displayed. On the left margin of the map was a listing of offenses, which I sorted by date. Alternatively, clicking on one of the displayed icons displayed the type of crime, the date, the address, time, and reporting agency.

There is much more information available then just displaying a crime map. Clicking on the “Analytics” tab on the top of the web page opens up a detailed crime analysis graphing utility. On the top of the display the user first clicks on a state from the pull down menu, and then in the adjacent column clicks on a participating jurisdiction. As with the maps, specific time periods can be easily selected. The first graph displays the type and number of crimes as a bar graph. The second chart shows a pie chart showing types of crimes as a percentage of total crime. The bottom of the web page shows crime trends, color coded by type of crime, and charted by date and number. With the maps and analytical information, residents and businesses can be better aware of the criminal risks throughout an area.

While all of the information on CrimeReports.com is freely available for anyone to access and use, it also offers several advantages to those law enforcement agencies that subscribe to the service. The analytics can be used by neighborhood watch and community oriented policing activities to identify problem areas, allocate resources, set goals, and measure progress. City councils may find the information very useful in terms of ordinances and budgetary planning. The law enforcement agencies themselves may make use of the service with several non-public analysis tools called “Command Central”. This service integrates with any existing CAD or RMS systems, and supports CompStat-style analysis. While secured, authorized users can access the information online using any web browser. The integral “Roll Call” feature can display crime maps and statistics on a precinct or district basis, alerting officers to potential crime patterns. In researching this column, I found several complementary reviews by law enforcement personnel that explained how the system is used to maintain and disseminate crime reporting information. A “TrendCaster” function “… can be used to evaluate policy changes, beat assignments, and overall crime trends with a heat map that highlights areas where crime is on the rise and decline.”

Agencies can also use CrimeReports.com as a public information tool alerting residents of potential situations. The website offers free email alerts which will deliver contemporary crime maps directly to the subscribers’ inbox. “Residents can sign up for automated emails that let them know where crime has happened near their home or place of work. All alerts are customizable by location and area. In addition, citizens can choose to receive daily, weekly, or monthly alerts, and they have the freedom to choose which crime types they want to track.” There is also a free iPhone application available for download that offers great functionality. The iPhone app will display crimes by location or address, crime type, and customizable date range; display data on the crime map or in a list view; show national sex offender data alongside crime in your neighborhood; and provide free, automated, email crime alerts. CrimeReports.com also disseminates information in real-time on social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook. There is also a free widget which can be installed on the agency website to give residents access to a local crime map without having to leave the agency website.

Crime is something we all must be aware of and deal with. By using the capabilities of CrimeReports.com residents and law enforcement alike may benefit through increased information about local threats and trends. It is a very worthwhile service.

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