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The Google mapping of crime

This, by Clay Shirky, is a truly fascinating blog posting. And the bit of it that I am about to quote (which is as far as I have so far got in it) is (to use a word I usually resist) awesome, at any rate in its long-term potential impact:

Just to pick one example, one I’m in love with, but it’s tiny. A couple of weeks one of my students at ITP forwarded me a project started by a professor in Brazil, in Fortaleza, named Vasco Furtado. It’s a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there’s an assault, if there’s a burglary, if there’s a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring.

That does not sound ‘tiny’ to me. It sounds huge. Finally, here might be a system worth reporting crimes to.

What this says is that those maps you see in TV cop shows will stop being a cop monopoly and become something everyone can consult, and contribute to. A golden age of private sector law enforcement beckons. In the words of the title of the blog (now alas not alive any more) where this particular posting appears: “Here comes everybody”. And against everybody, the criminals will be put back on the defensive where they belong, in other words where they were before TV took almost all law-abiding citizens off the streets (by showing them such things as TV cop shows), leaving behind only actually existing (as opposed to TV fantasy) government policemen, idiotically droning their mantra: leave it to us. Which has worked really well, hasn’t it?

Apologies to all those to whom this is stale news, what with this blog posting being based on a speech that was delivered exactly one year ago tomorrow. But if only a small fraction of the Samizdata readership has not seen this posting before, then from where I sit this is a very good mission accomplished. My thanks to Lynn Sislo, for mentioning it here.

9 comments to The Google mapping of crime

  • Fascinating article. I tried something similar on a very small scale last month when I used Google Maps to track a vandal through a nearby suburb.


    I figured that if I could build up a picture of where he is striking, and then narrow it down to when he is striking, it might help to find out who he is. As far as I am concerned, he is trampling on the property rights of others, and deserves to be stamped on.

    If you ask me, it shows a lot of promise. And yes, it’s amazing where you can find the time to do things when you reduce your television intake.

  • VG

    If you like that idea, checkout the crime maps at EveryBlock Chicago:


  • Anomenat

    Not the same, since it isn’t a publicly writable wiki, but this is still interesting and similar.

  • The chaps in Fitzrovia did this a few years ago using Google Maps.

    BTW, Fitzrovia is an area in London, Bloomsbury might be a more familiar term (though not quite the same thing).

  • I wonder if the boys in blue should set up a Bluetooth scheme in all of the heavily mapped areas?

  • Sigivald

    Here in Portland, the City’s had that for years, with the slight difference that you have to report the crimes to the PD.

    But that has the useful side effect of making it so that interested other parties can’t manipulate the map (say to make an area look dangerous to depress property values…).

    The contrary danger, of the State pretending crimes aren’t occurring, hasn’t been a problem here, though I can imagine it might in some jurisdictions.

    Tradeoffs, what?

  • Sunfish

    The contrary danger, of the State pretending crimes aren’t occurring, hasn’t been a problem here, though I can imagine it might in some jurisdictions.

    It’s called “killing crime.” Variations of that have occurred in other cities.

    In Chicago, homicides are frequently classified as “unknown-cause death investigations.” That’s done to keep the murder rate artificially low. Then, Shortshanks the Stuttering Prick[1] can crow about how his city is safe at the end of the year. Then, a year or so later, the murders are finally actually classified as murders only by then nobody cares anymore. Since Chicago PD clears[2]

    NYC experienced a related phenomenon in the 1990’s, and especially during the Giuliani years: robberies[3] were actually listed in reports as “theft from the person” which is not a violent crime. Trick rolls[4] would be reported as “lost property” or a report would not be taken at all.

    Philidelphia PD was ordered to pull these same tricks in the 1990’s in order to make the 1994 Bill Ruger Memorial Scary-Looking Gun Ban look like a success.

    Year-over-year comparisons were not helped by the introduction of mandatory-arrest statutes[5] in domestic violence cases. Cases that previously would have been kissed off, no paper, resulted in arrests and prosecutions, and apples-to-oranges comparisons.

    Llamas? Any good gouge from your corner of the playground?

    Because of the way crime is tracked in the UK, under so-called “ethical crime recording standards” no trustworthy numbers are available. There’s just no way to predict what really happened based upon Home Orifice-mandated stats. Which makes it plausible that crime stats are tweaked for political purposes. I don’t know if UK policing even can be rescued. Executing Jack Straw and Jacqui Smith for treason, followed by selling every chief inspector on up into slavery to wealthy homosexual Yemenis, might be a good start.

    [1] sometimes known as Richard M. Daley

    [2] Meaning a suspect is either actually arrested, or is identified with enough reliability[6] to make a legal arrest but prosecution is declined for one of a short list of reasons

    [3] Considered a violent crime, defined as “taking something of value from another, by the actual or threatened use of physical force or violence”

    [4] Someone patronizes a prostitute, and in the process has his wallet stolen. He may or may not be physically assaulted in the process.

    [5] Not well understood by the public. These do not alter the standard of evidence required for an arrest. As always, it’s probable cause. The change was, we used to be allowed to issue a court summons and call it a night, or even tell the parties to sleep in different rooms and no even do any paper on it. The only thing that’s changed with mandatory-arrest was our discretion, from “limited” to “none.”

    [6] US standard for arrest applying here, which is different from that in the UK.

  • The same Google maps API is being used for tracking swine flu – see my blog post