Public views on new crime-information initiatives

A new report highlights the public appetite for information about crime and criminal justice outcomes, but argues that providing a greater quantity of information must not be an end in itself. The research, carried out by the Policy Studies Institute (PSI), on behalf of the Home Office, explores what the public think about a range of ’Trailblazer’ initiatives, using new digital technologies to enhance the provision of crime information to the public. It suggests that the aim of transparency and openness should be balanced by the need for the information provided to be high quality, relevant, usable and intelligible.

In particular, PSI’s research suggested that the design and content of the Trailblazer initiatives needed to be better tailored to the purpose intended, whether this was for preventing crime - which required more frequent, detailed information on incidents as they occurred - or for the purpose of ‘holding the police to account’, requiring more aggregate data on crime trends and crime rates. The initiatives also needed a better ‘hook’ to keep people returning to them, and would benefit from more effective use of the technology to provide individually tailored information – for example, crime alerts tailored to GPS location using smartphone technology.

The findings also suggested that the provision of crime information alone is unlikely to stimulate public engagement in police accountability – one of the key intended purposes of the Trailblazers - without wider activity to educate the public on how they might use the information to do this effectively.

Dr Jacqui Karn of the Police Foundation, an independent think tank on policing, who advised the PSI research team, commented:

‘This research provides valuable insights into what the public think of new initiatives aimed at increasing transparency and involving communities in policing. The research suggests a public appetite for information about crime but highlights some of the pitfalls in designing such initiatives. This report will be essential reading for police forces and community safety partnerships considering developing new ways of engaging with the public, and demonstrates the value of involving members of the public in designing them. Understanding the public appetite for, and reactions to transparency and community engagement initiatives like these, is particularly pertinent with the approaching elections of Police and Crime Commissioners in November, whose central role will be to better engage with the public on policing and crime reduction.’

Notes for Editors

The ‘Trailblazer’ initiatives add to a programme of work to implement a government commitment to making locally mapped crime data publicly available.

In January 2011, the Government enhanced www.police.uk by publishing local maps showing crime data at street level, which was intended to facilitate meaningful public engagement with local police and other services engaged in crime reduction and community safety.

Justice outcomes have also been made available online since May 2012. This later development was not in place when focus groups were carried out.

This research, conducted between November 2011 and January 2012, involved interviews with practitioners and focus groups with members of the public. It examined public perceptions of the following ‘Trailblazer’ initiatives, across seven areas of the country:

  • Surrey Police Beat app – a smartphone application for local police communications (available to download from www.police.uk);
  • Crime Reports – a crime mapping website developed by Community Safety Partners in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (www.crimereports.co.uk);
  • Track My Crime – a case-tracking system for victims of crime developed by Avon and Somerset Police (www.trackmycrime.police.uk);
  • Neighbourhood News – a newsletter issued by Dyfed Powys Police;
  • Provision of criminal justice outcomes on www.police.uk , tested in West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire Police Forces prior to the national rollout in May 2012.

The report - Perceptions of the policing and crime mapping ‘Trailblazers’ – written by a team at PSI led by Kathryn Ray, is published today by the Home Office http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/science-research/.

For further information, please contact PSI Administrator, Tim Edwards, 020 7911 7521 t.edwards@psi.org.uk