EPS responds to my query about the Crime Mapping terms of use

Last week I posted about the new Crime Mapping site launched by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). One of my criticisms of the site was the very restrictive terms of use or disclaimer that you must agree to before you can use the site. In particular:

While it is acceptable to pass the website link on to others in your community, you will not share the information found on the website with others other than with members of the Edmonton Police Service or other law enforcement agencies; and

You will only use this website and the information in it so you can inform yourself of, and participate in, this community policing initiative;

This is problematic because it effectively means that you can’t do anything with the data that EPS has now made available. You can look at it using their site, but you can’t then blog about that data, or add it to a PowerPoint presentation.

I emailed a request for clarification and received a response from Amit Sansanwal, Criminal Statistics Coordinator at EPS. I asked for and was granted permission (by their legal department) to publish his response:

The EPS views the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website as a valuable addition to our community policing initiative.

The EPS, however, is of the view that this tool can only be effective and achieve its community policing objectives if people seeking the information visit the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website directly themselves.

By visiting the website, hopeful participants in this EPS community policing initiative can learn about what kind of information is available to them (e.g. crime prevention and partnership programs) and how it fits within this program.

We appreciate your interest in this program and hope that you tell others about the existence of the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website.

In a later email, Amit pointed out that the current preferred way to get EPS statistics is through Statistics Canada.

The crux of their position, if I understand it correctly, is that they don’t want people looking for crime statistics to come across an inaccurate or malicious source. That seems reasonable. The problem is that such a position assumes people are actively seeking the information. By opening up access to the data and allowing others to make use of it, they can potentially reach far more Edmontonians, not to mention the benefits that could come from mashups or other data visualizations. Furthermore, it seems as though they just want to force people to use the Crime Mapping site so that they can promote additional programs to users.

The Crime Mapping site is fun to look at, but I would argue its utility is restricted by the current terms of use. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’ll be changing any time soon.

10 thoughts on “EPS responds to my query about the Crime Mapping terms of use

  1. This response is disappointing. If they would prefer people get their info from Stats Can then why publish data at all? There can only be two reasons:

    1) They find the data from Stats Can too restrictive and they want to make it more accessible to the community. If this is the case, then why put in further restrictions? They’re not solving the problem, just creating a new barrier.

    2) They thought the idea of a crime map was “cool” and would be useful to Edmontonians. If this is the case, then why limit how useful and “cool” it can be by placing restrictions on the data’s use?

    Either way it seems to me the logical choice is to open up the data.

  2. I agree with you completely DJ!

    And if they are really concerned about citizens coming across false information, there are better ways of solving that problem. There’s nothing technical in the way of republishing the stats today anyway.

  3. Isn’t this the case with anything nowadays that goes online? It’s a tricky edge that all individuals who possess information – as nowadays information is more powerful than ever. Kudos for EPS for having the courage to put that up there…but there will always be “a but…”

  4. I can appreciate the EPS desire to avoid malicious use of this data (Real estate agents start manipulating the data to adjust perceived land value, etc), but that notwithstanding, I still fail to see the value in this service?

    This data is immensely useful on an internal level to the EPS to help focus efforts more efficiently, and curb trends in high-crime areas. But publicly, it strikes me as something that will do nothing but harm the public opinion of certain areas in the city – propagating the development of slums and other such undesirable places.

    As well, the implementation of the data is somewhat suspect… At this point, the requirements for an incident to be included on the map are a little lax. There are a number of situations that could greatly skew the look and concentration of points on the map.

    While I appreciate the attitude certain EPS officers have taken in furthering this initiative, I don’t feel that it does the public any great service. Everything the EPS can do to open communications with the public will go a long way to restoring public opinion of Police to where it should be: as men and women who daily put their lives on the line to protect us from the criminals who would do us harm. But in regards to this, let me say what everyone’s thinking: “If I see an area of high crime on this map, I’m not going to live there, walk there, or do business there.” I feel that attitude will further the erosion rather than help prevent it.

    I want the police internally to focus their efforts on what this map shows… but I would rather look at statistics that show I can feel safe on EVERY street in Edmonton.

    This is certainly just my opinion, but I’ve had a raised eyebrow at this project from the beginning.

  5. hey, I happen to like the fear-o-map. It shows me where to be more suspect of, afraid of and trigger happy of anyone I see on the street, regardless of if they are doing anything suspicious, because statistically speaking, they are more likely to be trying to commit a crime.

    I know it helps me to feel more afraid, I mean, secure every day.

  6. Paul, you raise some good points. There will probably always be people who look at the map and say “no way I’m living there.” And it’s important to note that the data on the map is just reported crimes.

    However, I think this project does provide value. First and foremost, it makes information available to enable better decision making. Is that politician telling the truth? Why did EPS just assign more officers there? Why is the City spending money on street lights there? These are the kinds of questions that we can start to answer by having access to data.

    It also empowers individuals and community organizations to take action themselves. Perhaps the community league in a neighbourhood realizes that the number of thefts is increasing. They can then do something about it, such as distribute flyers throughout the community or something similar.

    There are a variety of other ways this data can provide value…all it takes is some creativity, and permission to use the data!

  7. This is true, the map reflects reported crimes. But, as I mentioned above, that reporting system lacks any sort of accurate reflection of the crimes in that community. Let’s say one guy mugs ten people – that guy is caught, arrested and put into jail, that still shows up on the map as ten separate (unsolved) incidents.

    Maybe if the map showed some solvency rates, it would go a long way to, like I said above, show the fantastic job EPS officers do. But again, that information could be reflected in basic statistics and not some…map.

    As well, we shouldn’t need to insinuate the reasons behind the types of decisions you mentioned above from a crime map…if that’s the case, the real advocacy here should be behind openness and transparency from municipal government.

    And finally, information like officer deployment should never be made public (for the same reasons police don’t comment about ongoing investigations). Sharing that information puts both the public & officers at risk – imagine, as a dangerous offender, knowing exactly where the lowest level of police coverage was, and being able to exploit that.

    Anyways. I’ll leave the commenting to some other folks, now. Either way, I suppose we all agree that communication is a good thing 🙂

  8. Yes, we can definitely agree on that!

    Maybe the officer deployment was a bad example…I was probably thinking about the ETS officers or whatever, they often announce those.

    I too would like to see solvency rates.

  9. I was recently looking at the crime map of a different city, and manually correlating it with the main public-transit/transportation corridors and with real-estate prices.

    I can’t see that StatsCan has an interest in providing such a data mash-up. I also can’t see that the police have an interest in providing such a mash-up. The real-estate (service) sector might, but if the data isn’t freely available, then that’s not going to happen.

    I’m sure there are other ways to mash up this data where users have no interest in the context within which the police want the data presented. For example, the insurance companies who cover property crime don’t care whether the crimes were solved, committed by one person or many, etc. They just care about getting the insurance premium right.

    Police are a public service, and Canadian courts have ruled that free speech includes the right to receive information — especially about matters of public interest. Draw your own conclusions about how the terms of use would stand up in a court case.

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