What do communities want? Understanding how the publishing of local crime statistics impacts community reassurance

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Security and Crime Science


Since 2009 police forces have been publishing crime statistics, using their own web-based crime mapping tools or via the national crime mapping facility (http://www.police.uk/). This has been for the purpose of improving reassurance with local communities alongside other objectives (eg to improve the credibility of crime statistics).

To date, the NPIA has completed some research into the impact of this initiative, and some police forces have conducted their own surveys with local residents.This proposed activity intends to draw together the collective experience on the impact that publishing crime statistics has had on communities, and critique it against other research evidence. 

The project also involves reviewing the crime statistics that police forces currently publish, and holding two workshops for police representatives responsible for providing and/or publishing crime statistics in order to identify lessons learnt, evidence on the impact that publishing crime statistics is having on improving reassurance and community engagement, examples of good practice, and future challenges and areas for development.


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Description Since December 2008, all police forces in England and Wales have published crime statistics using crime mapping (www.police.uk). Initially these data were published as aggregated statistics to large administrative areas, but since February 2011, these data have been published at street level. The primary reasons for publishing these data were to help improve the credibility of crime statistics and address often over-inflated perceptions about local levels of crime. Our research involved consulting with police forces, the Home Office, and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), to explore their evidence for supporting these primary reasons.

While most police forces have received anecdotal comments from the public about these data (both positive and negative), no police force has conducted a statistically representative survey on the use and impact of publishing street level crime statistics. The NPIA have though conducted a survey that indicated the information to be informative and trustworthy, and did not increase the fear of crime, but this was conducted prior to the launch of street level data. Our findings suggest that the manner in how these street level crime statistics are mapped was not well thought through, as highlighted by many of the negative media headlines describing inaccuracies and confusion about crime levels in many locations. There is also the suggestion that the manner in how the information is presented is too passive, but that there is potential of embedding social networking functionality into the crime mapping interface to help enable a more engaged dialog with local communities.
Exploitation Route The findings from our research help to identify several key principles that police and law enforcement agencies should consider when publishing crime statistics. This includes identifying opportunities for and being realistic about the public engagement and empowerment potential that come from publishing crime statistics.
Sectors Other
Description The research has provided recommendations on future developments for publishing crime statistics using crime mapping that are likely to influence the national policy on this agenda. Firstly, the research provided the opportunity to improve the level of consultation between police forces and the NPIA, supported independently by our academic input and a synthesis of the research evidence. Our research also helped to highlight to police forces the existing functionality in the national crime mapping website that they were not aware of that could immediately improve the use of the data they were publishing for community engagement. Secondly, our research has shown that the evidence on the impact of publishing crime statistics using crime mapping, based on previous academic research, police surveys and any national surveys is thin. In particular, there is a need to better understand the impact of publishing street level crime statistics for improving the credibility of these statistics and helping to address the perception that local levels of crime are higher than the actual levels. Thirdly, our research has shown that the manner in how crime statistics are published on the national crime mapping website is not the best means for allowing ease of interpretation, nor has it sustained public interest. This is the main failing that currently exists. Our research also captured media attention and we gave many interviews at the time of the launch of street-level crime statistics. This included BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Manchester, and contributions to an article by the Sunday Times. We have also been in a position to advise several Chief Constables on the crime statistics they publish (and the problems with inaccuracies) because we are now seen as the academic authority on this topic. Since the research we have also given media interviews on several occasions as new developments have been announced. e.g. BBC Radio 2, June 2011 - the publishing of offender photos on the national crime mapping site.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Other
Impact Types Policy & public services
Description Expert witness to UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee - Implementing the transparency agenda
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact The output has contributed to how crime statistics are published on the police.net website.
URL http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpubacc/102/10202.htm