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Mapping Crime: Lessons from Chicago

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Chris Vallance | 15:28 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008


London Mayor Boris Johnson wants to introduce crime-mapping, and if elected, the Conservatives currently plan to adopt the policy nationally.

Boris's inspiration for this plan is, we read, New York. I found that a little surprising, because the crime-map I'd heard of was the hugely influential Chicago Crime Map (Chicagocrime.org), produced independently of the police. That map was one of the earliest and most celebrated Google-mapmashups, and a project that continues in an expanded form as the hyper-local news site Everyblock.

I spoke with the Everyblock team to find out what they thought about London's plans.

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Chicagocrime.org was itself only possible because of the innovative approach to data undertaken earlier by the police in Chicago. Currently the Chicago police's official mapping efforts centre around CLEARMap, a project that won the 2007 Innovations in American Government Award. The department in charge told me they have had over 400 visits from other police forces interested in their approach, including delegations from the UK. In the player below I speak to Information Services Division Commander Jonathan Lewin and GIS manager Joseph Kezon

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While Chicago with a population of just shy of 3million isn't on the same scale as New York, it has faced comparable problems with violent crime, and has like New York and many other municipalities in the US, enjoyed significant recent success in combating crime. But Chicago's approach is very different from the famed "zero-tolerance" approach that gets so much press here, and which it's often claimed the Mayor plans to pursue in London. For Chicago community policing is a central part of their approach, and the maps they publish form the basis of the conversation between beat officers and local communities.(And indeed beat meetings are mentioned in the Conservative proposal here)

Not everyone, of course, is happy with crime mapping. On the programme this weekend we'll hear from groups who worry that crime-mapping could be counter-productive, affecting house prices, increasing fear of crime, and leading to areas being stigmatized.

UPDATE: The Govt has announced plans to introduce crime mapping. There's a further interview on the subject with criminologist Dennis Rosenbaum of the University of Illinois at Chicago below (also posted in another entry)

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