David Weisburd and Tom McEwen opened their groundbreaking 1997 paper, Mapping and Crime Prevention, with an interesting bit of trivia. The first known case of mapping occurred in London during a cholera outbreak in 1854. Dr. John Snow plotted the deaths on a map of the city and compared them to the locations of water pumps throughout the afflicted neighborhood. Through investigation, Dr. Snow was able to pinpoint the exact source of the cholera, and end the outbreak.
Today mapping has evolved into a high-tech information motherlode. Applications on smart phones can find you the nearest Starbucks in a matter of seconds. But for all the convenience these consumer-oriented maps offer, none is more important than those mapping crimes.
As a parent, the safety of my kids is my number one priority in making more decisions than I can count. It influences which houses I’ve bought, which schools they attend, sometimes even which restaurants we frequent or events we visit. I want to know my family will be safe.
Take for example, when we were looking at buying a new house. After touring a home, looking in closets, measuring the space in bedrooms, and driving around the neighborhood, we’d always pull up the local crime mapping site when we got back to our place.
Some houses were dropped from our list within a few minutes after seeing the crimes report. Seeing a series of thefts within a few blocks of the house was a deal breaker for us.
But even more important to us was locating sex offenders in the area. One house we liked in a seemingly quiet neighborhood fell off our list immediately after we saw that a registered sex offender lived down the street.
Please don’t misunderstand, we believe in second chances for everyone after a person has paid his or her debt to society. But for us the risk of our children’s safety – even theoretically – far outweighed the house’s many attributes.
Having access to the knowledge of what crimes have occurred in near real-time is an incredible tool for everyone. And the more crimes that are mapped every year the more efficacious crime mapping becomes as a tool for overall community safety.
The engagement with local police departments mapping offers is an important added benefit. I’ve always been a firm believer that communities are safest when police and citizens work together. Mapping provides transparency about the crimes in my area. It offers members of the community the opportunity to proactively help in solving and reducing crimes by offering police tips and helping citizens make informed decisions.
Most importantly, mapping gives me an incredibly valuable benefit: the knowledge to empower myself. It helps me make educated decisions to protect my family.
Right now, CrimeReports has 80-million crimes mapped. That’s a staggering number. It is also an empowering number. The more we know, the more we can react and help to bring those numbers down. It will be great day when we start seeing fewer and fewer crimes mapped, because it will mean our society is measurably safer. I think Dr. Snow would be very proud.