Public crime data becomes more open and transparent city by city

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In 2007, Colin Drane wanted to know more about the crime that was happening in his Baltimore neighborhood. Utilizing the momentum of the open government movement, he founded SpotCrime, a public facing crime mapping and email alert website that collects public crime data from police agencies around the world.

Today, SpotCrime is even more than that. The technology is used to advocate for open, equal, and fair access to crime information driving open data in the public safety sector.

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As the most visited crime mapping site in the US, with over 8.5 million email alerts sent out on a monthly basis, SpotCrime is a busy organization. Our team is set up like a news agency, working with only public crime information and generating revenue from ads on the website. Users on the site come from across the globe, and we’ve learned a lot from them in regards to community interaction with public crime information.

Over the past couple of years the SpotCrime team has been excited to see public crime data become more open and transparent city by city. Open crime data means public crime data that’s made available to anyone in machine readable format without restrictions on ability to use, consume, or share. SpotCrime’s intent is to get all relevant crime information to the public, taking full advantage of the Internet to allow crime data to be shared, ultimately driving both greater awareness and new measures that will lead to a reduction in crime.

With the knowledge gained over the past seven years in regards to how the public interacts with crime information, we’ve been able to develop two free resources we believe will help police agencies release crime data openly to the public. Vendors typically place restrictions on public crime data they pull or display for police agencies, affecting how the public and press can use and share the information and defeating the purpose and spirit of open data. So, we’re hoping these resources will also help avoid restrictive contracts and proprietary partnerships with third party vendors that we’ve seen develop over the years.

SpotCrime Catapult is free software that will become open source in the near future and is available to any police agency allowing them to create a public (and open) data file. In the true spirit of open data, we do not take any ownership control of the program or request exclusive access to the program. The only thing we ask is that the data pulled by Catapult be made available to everyone.

SpotCrime Open Crime Standard (SOCS) was created after speaking with many open data groups around the country. The biggest request we heard was for a standard or set of guidelines residents and community activists could send to their local police agency in regards to open crime data. SOCS does just that, it defines a set of rules and guidelines that should be followed when opening up crime data. Our hope is that SOCS will be adopted similar to how General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) was adopted for transportation. Not only will it make it easier for agencies to share information and make sure the information that’s being shared is the same form agency to agency, it will allow for innovation and for companies to build new products and services that can cycle back into the economy.

Do you know how to access public crime information from your police agency? Are they already releasing the information openly? If you'd like to ask us how to get started email us at SpotCrime here:


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Working to provide free crime mapping and crime alert services to residents and police departments around the world. Advocate for open, equal, and fair access to public crime data.

1 Comment

Wow! It would be really great to have something like this in all the countries throughout the world. Making the system more Open and easily accessible would be a dream for the future.

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