Software Development
Crime / Data

With a mobile app, SpotCrime is adding new kinds of local police data

The local crime data service now provides data and maps on Most Wanted lists. Founder Colin Drane said SpotCrime is expanding, yet continues the push for transparency.

Police tape in Baltimore. (Photo by Flickr user Something Ferdinand, used under a Creative Commons license)

A dozen years ago, Colin Drane started SpotCrime as a hobby. Now the company is bringing local crime data across the country.

Baltimore-based SpotCrime seeks to provide update crime info for people at the neighborhood level, and in doing so worked with police departments to open up and standardize data.

Drane said the service now pushes 300 million crime alert emails annually to subscribers, and has access to data from more than 1,000 police agencies.

The team is still working to expand. In the last six months it released a mobile app, called MyLocalCrime, which is available via both Google Play and the App Store. Along with a website and email, it offers another way for citizens to view crime information and a map about where it’s located, and has tools to share data and send in crime tips.

SpotCrime is also adding new datasets: Recently, SpotCrime added a nationwide database of suspects who are on police’s Most Wanted list. Drane said it’s a chance to share data that police see as important to reach the public.

“The priority is high and what we’re doing is geolocating it so not matter where you are in the nation, you can see individuals who are most wanted in your area,” he said.

By providing the data, people can have a chance to report back if they see something — though Drane emphasizes that citizens should report any whereabouts to police, and not take matters into their own hands. (We saw a related discussion play out with the launch of the Citizen crime tracking app, fka Vigilante.)

In early 2020, SpotCrime is also planning to add a database of cold cases that provide information about high profile-yet-unsolved crimes.

Bringing new tools for sharing data to the public helps get more information out. It’s one way that SpotCrime is working to expand access. Drane said the company is also looking to work with more smaller police departments, as it already has many large cities in its database.

Drane is also passionate about democratizing access. That means not only pushing for more police agencies to share data, but making the reporting easier to read.

“Every police department pushes out their data in a different format and has a different philosophy and different technology,” Drane said. One of the things I’m pushing for is actually to destroy the value that SpotCrime creates by having every police department put out a spreadsheet in a uniform manner of stuff they did the day before.”

Such a standardized police blotter would make data easier to access for all, even though it wouldn’t require the formatting work that makes SpotCrime unique.

This remains a longer-term push, but it’s one that’s been consistent for Drane since the start. He said having access to more information plays a role in increasing trust between the public and law enforcement.

“The best way to do that is transparency,” he said.


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