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Are the new police crime maps any use for UK journalists? Some doubts raised

January 7th, 2009Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

Yesterday saw the launch of police crime maps in the UK. The Guardian reported:

“Crime maps detailing the number of offences committed in every neighbourhood have been published online by all 43 police forces in England and Wales, the Home Office said today.

“The colour-coded maps show the levels of burglary, car crime, robbery and other offences, and include charts showing whether crime is rising or falling.”

The maps were announced in July 2008, and had already provoked some discussion amongst journalists. This J.co.uk Editors’ Blog post all the way back in January 2008 looked at some existing regional newspaper mapping projects, including an LA Times homicide map and a murder map from the Manchester Evening News.

So are the new UK police maps all that new or useful for journalists? The Croydon Advertiser’s news editor, Jo Wadsworth, had this to say. She told Journalism.co.uk that they have had the maps in London for some months now.

“To be honest, my opinion of them hasn’t changed that much,” she said.

“The types of crime they cover are fairly restrictive, so they don’t give a particularly accurate reflection of true crime statistics in any one area. For instance, they don’t include sexual assaults, which would certainly be one type of crime I personally would be very interested in learning what the rates are in my local area.

“In terms of influencing and aiding local reporting, the Advertiser has run stories based on them, but they haven’t been that different to the standard crime figures stories which are a staple of local reporting, except in allowing us to drill down further than ward level,” she said.

“And I find it’s best to be wary of these types of stories in any case. For one thing, the police are well known for hailing any rises in crime as testament to their success in persuading people to report crime. And in terms of the micro-levels the maps drill down to, rises and falls are going to be fairly meaningless in any case.”

But, she added, ‘it’s good that the police are embracing this kind of technology, and transparency’.

“And hopefully in time it will be expanded to include more crimes – and more details for individual crimes,” she said.

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