Police Service Crime Mapping as Civic Technology: A Critical Assessment

Police Service Crime Mapping as Civic Technology: A Critical Assessment

Teresa Scassa (University of Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7672-3.ch015
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It is increasingly common for municipal police services in North America to make online crime maps available to the public. This form of civic technology is now so widely used that there is a competitive private sector market for crime mapping platforms. This paper considers the crime maps made available by three Canadian police forces using platforms developed by U.S.-based private sector corporations. The paper considers how these crime maps present particular narratives of crime in the city, evaluates the quality of the mapped data, and explores how laws shape and constrain the use and reuse of crime data. It considers as well the problems that may arise in using off-the-shelf solutions – particularly ones developed in another country. It asks whether this model of crime mapping advances or limits goals of transparency and accountability, and what lessons it offers about the use of private sector civic technologies to serve public sector purposes.
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Crime Maps

Crime maps provide visual representations of urban crime, and are a means by which police services can communicate information about crime to the community (Chainey & Tompson, 2012). Police services may create their own maps using commercially available mapping templates; alternatively, they may use the services of a private sector company in the crime analytics sector. Such companies also offer a variety of other data analytics services that may include predictive analytics, data management tools, and dashboards for internal police use. In some cases, crime mapping companies offer publicly accessible crime maps to police forces for free – perhaps in the hope that other for-fee data analytics services or enhancements to the map will be chosen for use by the force (Paulsen & LeBeau, 2012). Even where fees are charged for the crime maps, these are relatively low. For example, Wisnieski (2014) reports that crime mapping companies can charge fees that range from $600 to $2400 (USD) per year depending upon the size of the police force. Cost and convenience may be motivating factors for police services to choose to contract with private sector companies for crime mapping services.

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