The crime map and 18 million visitors

“Crime maps are ‘worse than useless’, claim developers” cried one Guardian headline. “Police map of crime: the data is richer and more useful” cried another.

As with all of these things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The criticism that makes the data ‘useless’ largely concerns data quality. The fact that some of the ‘crimes’ might not result in a conviction strikes me as a petty quibble. The positioning of a load of crime at a central point is clearly misleading.

I think the site itself works well. However, the question is whether it delivers information rather than data (to use a cliched distinction).

Useful information on crime comes if users can compare their area of interest with others, on any identified crime and whether performance improves or declines over time. On these measures, the site falls short.

On comparison: the map should be thematic to show surrounding areas. A chart should show crime types.

Crucially, the data must control for population size.

The police site does have crime rates – but only for ‘neighbourhoods’ and these are used to classify those neighbourhoods as places with (for example) a ‘high’ rate. BUT, this rate is defined as those places that appear in the top 2% of places.

As a result, every month the goal posts will move and no-one will be able to assess performance over time.

Visitors to will find these problems addressed. We will hold historical data and from month 3, we will offer a timeline so visitors can accurately assess if performance is improving.

Finally, there is the rumoured cost of £300,000 and I presume there’s a maintenance charge – probably 20%.

How does this commissioning happen? Having observed this from a distance for a while, what seems to happen is the commissioners believe they want a ‘website’. And they commission a website developer.

What should be commissioned is the good analysis and presentation of data — online. We’re not website developers but we do have software that works online.

We acquired this data and got it online within 24 hours. Updates will take a few minutes from here – and although we’ll do it for the moment, the police could do it for themselves. In other words, a LOT cheaper.

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