New sites find crime and criminals

Webware, Rafe Needleman, July 23, 2008

Perhaps it's a sign of an economy on the brink: I'm getting pitches for sites about crime. This week I heard from reps of both and Together, their services will help you find crime and criminals, let you look for police records on anyone, and illustrate how pervasive crime is in every community in the U.S.

All these crime reporting services take their data from public sources. It's tax dollars, after all, that fund police departments and the courts. The trick is in the packaging. CrimeReports does a nice job of placing criminal activity icons on a Google Map. The main business of the company that makes it, Public Engines, is the repackaging of information for municipalities themselves, which can then use it internally to look for patterns, or put the maps on their own Web sites. The site lets users get the data directly, and it's nicely laid out and easy to use. I found the data on the site up-to-date as well.

Another good source for crime maps, in a limited selection of cities:

CriminalSearches, a product from PeopleFinders, lets you find criminals to go with your crimes. Enter in a name, and it will tell you if the person has a criminal record. That's potentially useful if you're hiring people for a business or for domestic services like child care. The details you get back from a search hit are sparse, though. Like PeopleFinders, CriminalSearches makes its money by selling you the full report. Or, if there's someone you want to keep an eye out for, you can sign up for a free alert service that will tell you all the criminal activity of a person in the public databases. Be aware that the site does return traffic violations from some states (I found a family member's record for driving without a seatbelt), so a positive hit in the database certainly does not indicate criminality.

The site will also show you a map of registered sex offenders in your neighborhood. If you want the full details on one, again, you'll have to pay the service for the full report. But the free results will probably give more information than you wanted.

The real question these sites raise for me is this: What do you do with this data? Now that I can see that my neighborhood is a magnet for car break-ins and that burglaries are not uncommon, will I change my behavior? Not much. Living in the city means being careful no matter how safe a street appears on the surface. Likewise, I see that there are registered sex offenders within a few blocks. Should I avoid walking down that block with my son? I don't think so. If I were moving, or hiring a babysitter I would, of course, find these services more useful--although even in combination they don't tell what's going to happen with people or places in the future.

But it is sure entertaining to see if your boss, friends, and co-workers have records.

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