MPD disorients with CrimeMap

By:
01/15/2009

Tasked with protecting the nation’s capitol, one would think that the Metropolitan Police Department would do anything it could to make its job a little easier. But in the first week of February, MPD will cease to e-mail daily crime summaries to the Police Service Area listservs throughout the city, essentially shooting itself in the foot by eliminating one of the most valuable and effective tools District students and residents have to keep apprised of the dangers of their neighborhoods. What’s more, Department officials are convinced that DC CrimeMap, MPD’s barely searchable and visually confusing internet crime mapping tool, will act as an appopriate substitute for the PSA alerts. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
When DC CrimeMap made its debut in December, users found it to be slow and incompatible with most internet browsers.
The Department is in the process of reformatting the program to fix incompatibility problems. But MPD would do better to abandon CrimeMap altogether and invest its time and resources into improving CapStat, a citywide accountability effort that maps crimes in a far more coherent manner. For instance, in CapStat, users can call up a text box that details the crime incident. Users can also click and pan around different parts of the city and redefine search parameters without completely reloading the page. CrimeMap doesn’t include any of these advanced features.
In e-mails to the listserv members, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier announced that the Department would continue to issue PSAs until MPD’s IT staff could fix CrimeMap’s compatibility problems. She did not acknowledge, however, the multitude of other problems the application faces. The fact that MPD’s IT staff designed the original application to be compatible with outmoded Internet Explorer browsers which Lanier calls “cutting edge technology” betrays a basic and troubling misunderstanding of how to take advantage of the internet to conveniently disseminate important information. MPD ought to place their resources in the hands of professionals and focus their time where they have already had greater impact—PSA crime summaries.

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