Universities and colleges all over were interested in reporting on the launch of Ucrime.com recently, a Google Maps mashup (from the same folks who created Spotcrime.com). It maps out campus crime incidents for slightly over 200 universities.
One of the very earliest Google Maps mashup applications was another site which also pinpointed crime data with its real-world locations: ChicagoCrime.org, created by Adrian Holovaty. Graphically displaying crime info and statistic info onto map locations is one of the more compelling applications for online maps, IMHO.
I grew up in a college town and attended university there (College Station was the town and the University was Texas A&M) – and I recall that reading the Police Beat section of the school newspaper was one of the more entertaining pasttimes for the generally sleepy town. The university officials always took great pains to try to educate students and parents about the fact that it’s really part of the Real World, and as such, people should try to protect themselves from crimes through good habits.
Maps of crimes in urban areas are also extremely useful when you’re trying to choose where to live — is your neighborhood potentially a high-crime zone? You might be surprised if you viewed the maps — even peaceful-seeming neighborhoods can contain a lot of problems. Ucrime.com is targeting a valuable niche — the number of universities reporting on its recent launch indicates the level of interest out there for this sort of thing. Just as one might want to check out neighborhoods before moving in, parents could also compare the numbers of crimes reported in and around campuses before sending their children there.
Some individuals from universities have been quick to criticize the new site, however, such as UC Irvine, Boston U and Northeastern. While I’ve no doubt there’s been some amount of errors involved (with the amounts of data from various sources getting aggregated, there has to be), it appears to me that university officials are all to happy to exaggerate and dismiss the site. The main complaint appears to be that crimes outside of university grounds are sometimes reported on the maps.
I actually think it’s desirable to report on crimes within the university grounds as well as in their surrounding areas — it’s a much more accurate indication of the overall area’s crime level and safety. If university officials are dismissive of the site because it’s reporting on some crimes in the immediate area, it’s disingenuous to distract the public with claims of “inaccuracy”. After all, most campuses do not have moats nor walls to keep a criminal from walking across the street onto the grounds.
It’s not surprising, though, that university officials are critical of the site — they have a vested interest in trying to maintain some level of fantasy about the relative safety of their campuses.
My only big criticism is that Ucrime.com needs to expand quite a bit — 200 universities is a good start, but there’s over 800 universities, colleges and trade schools around the U.S. And, I wonder if they’ll be able to obtain crime stats for some of the private institutions?
Oh — I can’t resist a good-natured dig towards my alma mater’s big opponent school! If you compare the above map of crimes at Texas A&M with a map of crimes at the University of Texas in Austin, you’ll see a really much larger number of crimes pinpointed in Austin:
Ucrime.com’s mashup is a good one, and I imagine the scrutiny post-launch will just help them improve their quality. Universities had better accept quickly that they will not be able to realistically discourage people from looking at those maps, however, and judging the schools on the crime data displayed.
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