Police used to plot crime trends in Tyrone, Ga., by sticking different colored pins into a map hanging on the squad room wall.
“It was great for us here at the department, but it wasn’t getting out to the public,” Police Chief Brandon Perkins said. “I decided when I came in as chief (in September) that we were going to be an open-door agency so our citizens would know what is going on.”
The Atlanta suburb of 6,000 in October became the first Georgia police department to join CrimeReports.com, a Web site that offers free maps showing where crimes were reported. It also allows residents to be alerted by e-mail when crime is reported near their home, business or school.
Dalton, Ga., joined the online initiative last month, becoming the fourth Georgia law enforcement agency and one of 135 nationwide with the Internet crime mapping program. Online crime maps are also available in Athens-Clarke County and Chamblee.
ON THE WEB
“It just makes sense, especially in this age, for people to know what’s going on in their neighborhood,” Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker said.
Designating high crime areas also can have negative effects, said James Ponsoldt, professor of law at the University of Georgia. He said showing clusters of reported crimes on an online map can create “unfair prejudices and color people’s views” of a community.
“It has the potential for cementing in place and having the resulting economic effect that bank redlining has had, because no one wants to live in a high-crime area,” Mr. Ponsoldt said.
Lane Ashworth, chairman of the Dalton Public Safety Commission, said the online maps may drive down crime by leading residents to be more careful.
“I think I would be more cautious if it were a burglary or that type of thing (in my neighborhood),” said Mr. Ashworth. “I would be more astute about making sure the lights are on and the doors are locked. And from that standpoint, it would be advantageous.”
About 100 Dalton residents have registered for the e-mail alerts since the service started April 24, a CrimeReports.com official said.
The Web site uses a Google Maps interface. It shows what block a robbery, theft or other crime is reported. Full addresses are not provided to protect assault victims.
Dalton pays $100 a month for the program. The Web service costs $200 a month for cities of more than 50,000 people.
The advertisement-free Web site is the brainchild of Virginia native Greg Whisenant, who told The Associated Press in February that he created the service after his own home was burglarized.
The Web site — now operated by Utah-based Public Engines Inc. — launched in May 2007 with crime maps for Washington, D.C. The company now works with law enforcement agencies in 23 states, but it doesn’t disclose how many hits the Web site receives.
No Tennessee agencies, as of yet, use the service.
“There is a lot of interest in transparent government,” said Christian Faulconer, chief operating officer of Public Engines. “This is happening in your neighborhood, and you are not going to be worse off for knowing it. It’s always better to be informed and really know what’s happening.”