Saturday, February 5, 2011
In the UK this week crime maps have been launched on a police website that crashed repeatedly over the first 48 hours as a result of the numbers of hits. The innovation was broadly welcomed in the press despite concerns about privacy and accuracy.
For social science scholars there seems to be a great opportunity to see whether Tiebout's thesis is applicable here, whether residents with the resources to do so will 'vote with their feet' moving away from high crime areas to lower ones. There may even be a reduced incentive in some areas to report crime (particularly for owner occupiers) if this will affect their property prices. It remains to be seen whether residents will use this information to 'hold local police officers to account' thereby reducing crime, which is the Government's prime justification for spending approximately £300,000 on developing the maps. The question remains whether these maps will address the causes of crime or whether crime rates will remain broadly similar but the maps will lead instead to the re-distribution of fearful residents into 'safer' areas (as Tiebout would suggest).
One other aspect that has intrigued me is that any local resident can identify where crime is most likely at the micro-level. Here wealthier locations with more expensive, detached hosues are not necessarily safer than cheaper roads within the same area. Arterial routes, alleyways and the location of late night drinking establishments will all affect where crime occurs. This reflects, as critical geographers have put it, a 'body ballet', since the way in which we use space arises through practice and use not simply the physical construction of a place. Crime maps illuminate this quite strikingly.