June 23, 2010 By Russell Nichols
In Pinellas County, Fla., now it only takes one click for residents to find details about crime in the area.
In June, the Sheriff's Office and Business Technology Services (BTS) unveiled the Crime Viewer website, a mapping program designed to provide citizens with a 24/7 snapshot of local crime.
Powered by the county's GIS database, the Crime Viewer displays reported crimes (burglary, assault, theft and drug possession) on a map, which users can customize based on proximity to an address, or the date or type of offense. The system updates every 24 hours, and residents can plot crime data that occurred up to one year in the past, said Cecilia Barreda, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office.
"It's a mapping program," Barreda said. "It provides a snapshot of what types of crime are happening in a community around the clock."
Numerous municipal police departments collaborated in this effort to contribute data to the new mapping tool. The database is also linked to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sex offender database, giving citizens access to sex offenders' photos and addresses, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"Crime Viewer is a useful application for citizens seeking any information about crime in their area," said Sheriff Jim Coats in a release, "and will no doubt serve as a crime prevention tool as well."
In the future, residents will be able to receive crime data through alerts and notifications to their mobile devices and e-mail accounts. But the point of the site is not just to give users access to crime data, but also to provide them with information to make informed decisions. For example, residents can use the program when preparing to move or buy property in a particular neighborhood. It also can help Neighborhood Watch groups or community associations follow crime trends and take action. At the very least, it will help residents indulge their curiosity.
"At night, they might see cruisers or see a helicopter, and they're not sure what happened," Barreda said. "They will often call our office and say, 'Can you give me any idea what's going on?' Now that it's automated, the information is there at the fingertips of the citizens."