For more than two decades, law enforcement agencies have used data to figure out crime patterns and target “hot spots” in communities. A growing number of police departments are making some of that information available to the public online, reports Stateline. They see it as a way to inform residents about criminal activity in their neighborhood and help reduce crime. Whether they live in small towns or major cities, people can now pull up free crime-mapping websites, click on a geographic area and pinpoint where and when crimes ranging from burglaries to auto thefts have been reported. “The best way to be safe is to be aware,” said Ben Gorban of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “You can find out that there have been five car thefts in your neighborhood in the last week. So maybe you should lock your car and lock down your valuables.”
Gorban said that more than 1,000 police departments are offering online crime-mapping to the public. He thinks those numbers will continue to rise because of calls for more openness and because so many free or low-cost mapping programs have become available. “There's been clamoring for law enforcement to be more transparent, and this is one way for them to do that,” he said. “It started with posting online where sex offenders live, but that was kind of the tip of the iceberg. Now, they're putting a lot more information online.” Leah Haran, marketing analyst for BAIR Analytics, which runs RAIDS Online, said her company has signed up police agencies in 46 states, from tiny departments with fewer than 10 officers to big city ones such as those in Dallas and San Francisco.