Pinpointing Crme

Heather Brooke in the Guardian last week suggests that the reason crime statistics are not published at a very detailed level by the Met is because they are concerned about being held to account for crime:

Knowing what crimes happen and where is important for several reasons. First, people want to know how safe (or unsafe) they are. They need accurate and detailed data if they are to form an opinion of the safety of their neighbourhood. When they know what’s happening, they are in a better position to help or support the police. They are also better able to hold the police to account. This is perhaps what the police fear most…

Perhaps this is oversimplifying the issue. There has been much discussion within academic and police circles about the anonymisation of crime statistics, what precisely would constitute adequate anonymity? Is just leaving out the victims name but providing precise address details sufficient? Remember that a unit postcode in urban areas represents about 12 houses, would it be ok to pinpoint a crime to that extent? Heather Brooke talks about mapping crime to “street level” – unfortunately defining a street for this purpose may not be as easy as it sounds, how would one distinguish between a cul de sac with only 4 houses and a major thoroughfare with several hundred? There may also be some crime types which need to be anonymised to a greater extent than others to ensure that no one can deduce the identity of the victim (or alleged perpetrator) from the apparent location shown on a crime map – family violence and child abuse for example might fall into this category.

Publishing information that can be de-anonymised (horrible word) through local knowledge for example could be counter productive and might indeed breach a victims right to privacy. The potential difficulties are not insuperable and I do not believe that the reluctance to publish detailed information by the police service is part of an effort to avoid being held accountable.

Perhaps what is needed is a carefully considered model of what information should be published at what level of granularity to protect the rights of the victim whilst providing useful information to the public. One for the Jill Dando Institute?