Thursday, August 6, 2009

It happened right here!

The level and timeliness of information available to the public on crimes occuring in their neighbourhood is now quite astonishing. In the US uses a mash-up of police records and Google Maps to provide detailed maps of the precise location of seven types of crime (theft, burglary, robbery, assault, arson, shooting, vandalism), plus the location of arrests. For those unsure of the differences between some of these (and I was never fully sure of the difference between theft, burglary and robbery) they are:
  • Theft - taking property belonging to another without that person's consent.
  • Burglary - breaking and entering a building illegally for the purpose of committing a crime.
  • Robbery - using force or intimidation to take property away from another person in the presence of that person.
  • Assault - a physical attempt or threat to use violence with the intent to do harm to another.
  • Arson - intentionally setting fire to the property of another or the burning of one's own property to collect insurance.
  • Shooting - firing a weapon in order to hit, wound, or kill someone or something.
  • Vandalism - the intentional destruction of or damage to the property of another.
If you hover your cursor over a crime location a little box pops up and tells you the nature of the incident that occured there. In some cases it will even tell you the name of the perpetrator and details about them. The map seems to be updated daily and certainly weekly so you can get a pretty much real time view of the crimes occuring in an area.

The map above (click to enlarge) shows downtown Boston and parts of Cambridge for between 4th June and 4th August. Robberies seem to be most prevalent in the downtown; there are a cluster of burglaries around Columbus Park; a fair few thefts in Cambridge; and a cluster of assaults in Cambridge near to MIT and around Lower Roxbury.

Crimespot also provide maps of crimes in cities all round the world (including a search facility for those not listed) I'm not sure of the source of the data for some places. In Dublin, Ireland, the address data seems to be stripped out of newspaper reports. Crime data in Ireland, as far as I am aware, is hampered in two respects. First there are no postcodes in Ireland making it difficult to record its precise location, and second, as a result, crime is recorded against the responsible garda station not its location. The result is it is extremely rare to see meaningful maps of crime in Ireland at a local scale.

For those living elsewhere you might be able to view what crimes are occuring in your neighbourhood. How to interpret this data or its uses is a whole other ball game. Perhaps I'll cover that in another post at some point.


Uriah Robinson said...

I looked up London and the system does fall down when you have similarly named streets. The is allegedly a stabbing on Kingston Road, New Malden marked on the map as Kingston Road, Epsom. Having worked for 17 years on the New Malden road and knowing the Epsom road quite well it unfortunately could be either.

Rob Kitchin said...

It's mainly a US system, but does show what is possible with decent data. The Met does have an online mapping system but it is very generalised. See

Dorte H said...

Well, I have said it before, but ... fascinating this way you combine your knowledge about maps with your interest in crime.

Sometimes, juggling with two languages makes it easier to understand a concept. In Danish, burglary is called ´indbrud´ (in + breach or break), a term which no one could get wrong.