Crime mapping empowers residents to help combat crime

by Kaye Dickson

When researching new states, cities or counties to relocate your family, what is most important? What defines a “good neighborhood?” Perhaps it’s the local school rating, or it’s the amount and type of crimes committed in the community? Obtaining information on crime in the area can be confusing, at best. Many law enforcement agencies have implemented software that produces crime mapping, often referred to as COMPSTAT or GIS mapping, in an effort to better serve the community with transparency. But, is it beneficial? Does it really build safer neighborhoods? Thanks to the Internet and social media, people frequently research information in real time. Communication among neighbors has changed in recent years, from stopping to visit on the front porch to a less personal approach, such posting on Twitter or Instagram. One isolated criminal incident spread through social media can have a huge impact on the image of a neighborhood or the city in which you live. I still recommend stopping to say, “hi” to your new or potential neighbors, before relocating.

Crime mapping supporters say these maps hold law enforcement accountable and give communities a more realistic view of the risks of being victimized, which is more effective than relying on a simple social media post or depending on headline news. The more transparent law enforcement is about crime in our community, the more empowered citizens become to actually assist in addressing criminality.

I believe knowledge is beneficial, and I believe crime mapping helps to see exactly what is going on in your community in real time. In some cases, it is going to make people feel safer, and at the same time, might make some people feel less safe. For those who may be concerned with privacy, due to the sharing of information, there are many ways to protect victims of crime by using anonymized maps, such as pinpointing crimes within a square mile radius instead of exact locations.

Within Pinal County there are 12 cities. Five, including the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, direct you to another website, and utilize the LexisNexis Community Crime Map. It is communitycrimemap.com

Law enforcement agencies throughout Pinal County use various reporting methods on the types of crimes, and all agencies appear to be lacking consistency and uniformity. The Maricopa Police Department appears to be most user-friendly, and has crime statistical information readily available on its website, which appeared to be the most up-to-date at the time of this story. The problem is, many small agencies may not have the resources or expertise to develop geographic information and do not take full advantage of crime mapping.

I did find several websites containing crime statistics throughout the country, based on the information available. It appeared the information was taken from universal crime reporting (UCR) data, which is information maintained by the FBI and reported annually by law enforcement agencies who seek federal funding. This report is believed to be the most accurate. However, it is not real-time data, and only references the city or county reporting.

Without actual and good crime mapping, it can be difficult to address concerns in a specific area. It is important to remember, when researching crime in your neighborhood, that the crimes only show how the information was first reported. (For example, something could have been reported as a burglary, but turned out to be a false alarm). Details about the crime could also change based on the ongoing investigation. Law enforcement agencies can select the types of crimes to disclose, and not all crimes will be represented on a map.

Crime mapping is a tool for planning and problem-solving. Crime has no boundaries, and sharing of information is crucial between law enforcement agencies and the communities served. A more regional approach to cooperation, such as data sharing, can have a significant impact on the spread of best practices among law enforcement. Data-driven management is an effective tool for law enforcement agencies to become more proactive in your communities, breeding transparency and the partnering with community members for the biggest positive outcome. The reality is most of the information can be obtained through your local media outlets, but the ease of crime mapping makes the information more readily available, so the community is better prepared to assist in law enforcement practices.