How safe is your street?
Well, by the end of the year you’ll be able to get some idea with every police force required to produce online interactive “crime maps”.
West Midlands and West Yorkshire are two of the forces who have put information about the number of offences in different neighbourhoods on their Web sites and on Wednesday the country’s biggest force, London’s Metropolitan Police, activated its crime mapping site.
The government believes that the maps will help alleviate public perceptions about crime, revealing that the number of actual offences is far lower than many people fear.
“By rolling out up-to-date, interactive crime maps, we can better inform people about crime problems in their area, and enable them to have much more of a say in what their local police focus on,” said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith last month.
“The latest annual crime figures showed another drop in crime nationwide but it’s important that people understand what this means to them in their local area and where challenges remain.”
New London Mayor Boris Johnson, who made providing the maps a key manifesto commitment, said it gave people the chance to see how their local police were performing.
‘This new online service means that Londoners will, at long last, be able to get information about crime levels in their neighbourhood at the click of a button,” Johnson said.
But how much use are they? The Met’s maps currently only provide details of burglaries, robberies and vehicle crime. The Police Federation, the body that represents rank and file officers, said the maps are not going to help and could even give criminals an idea of where the police are vulnerable.
Criminologists also argue that the data can be misleading as areas with high crime often have low reporting rates.
Looking up the crime statistics for my “sub ward” of London, I discovered the number of crimes fell from 6 to 5 last month, with my area given an “average” crime rating. And to be honest, I don’t know whether that should make me feel relieved, or worried.