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Dan Lewis: How the drive to release government data to the public has given birth to

Dan Lewis 2 Dan Lewis is Chief Executive of the Economic Policy Centre.

Yesterday, the Economic Policy Centre launched a new website, - the country’s first free to view crime-ranking platform for Neighbourhoods, Police Forces and streets with maps, analysis and reports. It has taken just over two months to develop and brings a number of new capabilities beyond those of the Government’s own website, For example:

  • It has a unique and searchable crime id, linkable url page and map for each registered crime in England and Wales (unfortunately growing by 500,000 a month)
  • It displays which of the 43 Police Forces has the highest or lowest total crime / crime rate or in violent / vehicle / robbery / burglary / other / asbo crime and how they rank against one another
  • Discover which neighbourhoods in England and Wales have the highest total / violent / vehicle / robbery / burglary / other / asbo crime or crime rate in this month or between two months
  • Discover which streets in England and Wales had the highest total / violent / vehicle / robbery / other / asbo crime  in this month or between two months
  • Discover where your neighbourhood ranks in the Neighbourhood Crime League table - within five miles of a given postcode
None of this would be possible if it was not for quite the most underrated and significant achievement of the Coalition thus far: the drive to release government data for third party analysis and development through sites like A lot of emphasis has been given to the possibilities of finding waste in government with the free access to government data. But open data is actually much more profound than that. And quite possibly of far longer reaching significance than many of the reforms of the 1980s that went on to be echoed around the world.

530 million years ago, over a very short time period the Cambrian Explosion ushered in massive evolutionary change to the scale, complexity and range of life on earth. No one really quite knew why that happened. It’s now thought that the key driver behind this non-linear explosive event was the development of the eye. The ability to see for the first time, opened up all sorts of possibilities for species to multiply, diversify and find new ecological niches.

Equally, the new freedom of citizens to see the government’s data, crunch, compare, sort, contrast, publish, and dispute it with today’s computing power represents nothing short of the beginning of a Cambrian Data Explosion for public policy.

Philosophically too, it represents a profound shift in the relationship between government and people, much deeper than the somewhat over-worked mantras of Localism and the Big Society. It is all about moving from command and control and the broadcasting of policy to genuine engagement and evolutionary flexibility. For the first time, citizens will start to have near parity of ordered information with which to hold their elected Police Chiefs to account.

All that being so, we have found – and continue to do so – a number of problems and outright errors with the data which we have outlined here  and on our FAQ.

Given the implications of releasing the crime data, it’s surprising that no one seems to have checked its quality. Not only does it fall a long way short of commercial standards, in some cases it is garbage. And locating and cleaning data is not just expensive, it’s tedious!

That’s why one of our policy recommendations is the Chief of each Police Force signs off the data each month. Someone has got to take responsibility for its quality and it needs to come from the top.

Our other Policy Recommendations include:

  • Definitions and listings of which crimes specifically fall under the six categories of Anti-social behaviour, Burglary, Other Crime (especially), Robbery, Vehicle crime and Violent crime to be made publicly available
  • Arrest data to be released by Neighbourhood and in relation to which type of the above crimes
  • Conviction data to be released by Police Force and by type of crime
  • Population data to be released by Street
  • Boundary areas of neighbourhoods to be released
  • Street crime data to be linked to Neighbourhood
  • Greater granularity on the type of crimes not sensitive to victims or court proceedings such as bicycle theft – this could take the form of Bike theft as a separately listed type of crime, as well as the data and time of the theft
  • Government to start an annual measurement of the cost of crime and the breakdown within it
  • The devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland to release their data in an identical format so that comparisons can be drawn with England and Wales

We’re going to keep working at updating it every month and making improvements. Your suggestions are most welcome. 

It will always be argued over whether the causes of crime are either social or economic or both, but solving it has always been an information-driven solution. If UkCrimeStats plays some very small role in that, it will have been worth it. For the cost of crime, last time the Home Office calculated it in 2000 was £60 billion.


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