Conrad Quilty-Harper writes about the new crime data from the UK police force – and in the process adds another straw to the groaning camel’s back of the government’s so-called transparency agenda:
“It’s useless to residents wanting to find out what was going on at the house around the corner at 3am last night, and it’s useless to individuals who want to build mobile phone applications on top of the data (perhaps to get a chunk of that £6 billion industry open data is supposed to create).
“The site’s limitations are as follows:
- No IDs for crimes: what if I want to check whether real life crimes have made it onto the map? Sorry.
- Six crime categories: including “other crimes”, everything from drug dealing to bank robberies in one handy, impossible to understand category.
- No live data: you mean I have to wait until the end of the next month to see this month’s criminality?!
- No dates or times: funny how without dates and times I can’t tell which police manager was in charge.
- Case status: the police know how many crimes go solved or unsolved, why not tell us this?”
This is why people are so concerned about the Public Data Corporation. This is why we need to be monitoring exactly what spending data councils release, and in what format. And this is why we need to continue to press for the expansion of FOI laws. This is what we should be doing. Are we?
UPDATE: Will Perrin has FOI’d all correspondence relating to ICO advice on the crime maps. Jonathan Raper has a list of further flaws including:
- Some data such as sexual offences and murder is removed – even though it would be easy to discover and locate from other police reports.
- Data covers reported crimes rather than convictions, so some of it may turn out not to be crime.
- The levels of policing are not provided, so that two areas with the “same” crime levels may in fact have “radically different” experiences of crime and policing.
Charles Arthur notes that: “Police forces have indicated that whenever a new set of data is uploaded – probably each month – the previous set will be removed from public view, making comparisons impossible unless outside developers actively store it.”
Louise Kidney says:
“What we’ve actually got with http://www.police.uk is neither one nor the other. Ruth looks like a crime overlord cos of all the crimes happening in her garden and we haven’t got exact point data, but we haven’t got first part of postcode data either e.g. BB5 crimes or NW1 crimes. Instead, we’ve got this weird halfway house thing where it’s not accurate, but its inaccuracy almost renders it useless because we don’t have any idea if every force uses the same parameters when picking these points, we don’t know how they pick their points, we don’t know what we don’t know in terms of whether one house in particular is causing a considerable issue with anti-social behaviour for example, allowing me to go to my local Council and demand they do something about it.”
Adrian Short argues that “What we’re looking at here isn’t a value-neutral scientific exercise in helping people to live their daily lives a little more easily, it’s an explicitly political attempt to shape the terms of a debate around the most fundamental changes in British policing in our lifetimes.”
“It’s derived data that’s already been classified, rounded and lumped together in various ways, with a bit of location anonymising thrown in for good measure. I haven’t had a detailed look at it yet but I would caution against trying to use it for anything serious. A whole set of decisions have already transformed the raw source data (individual crime reports) into this derived dataset and you can’t undo them. You’ll just have to work within those decisions and stay extremely conscious that everything you produce with it will be prefixed, “as far as we can tell”.
“£300K for this? There ought to be a law against it.”
UPDATE 2: One frustrated developer has launched CrimeSearch.co.uk to provide “helpful information about crime and policing in your area, without costing 300k of tax payers’ money”