Street-level crime maps: What is the research value?

Article dated: 11 February 2011

In February the Government launched an online crime mapping system that gives residents a monthly snapshot of crime and antisocial behaviour on every street in England and Wales.

While the merits of such a system are widely debated in the media, researchers might be wondering how this new data could support social research.

Crime maps in Westminster

The mapping system, available by typing a postcode into a website, is a collaboration between the Police Service, National Policing Improvement Agency and the Home Office. The site also contains a download facility for the underlying crime map data and information on police teams local to the search area.

For researchers interested in a particular geographical area, these local crime maps provide useful contextual information alongside other sources. The UK Data Archive's crime-related collections tend to be large-scale victimisation surveys, such as the British Crime Survey (BCS) or the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey (OCJS).

While both local recorded crime data and victimisation surveys have relative strengths, there are important differences between them:


The local crime data are extracted directly from police force crime and incident recording systems and uploaded to the web by individual police forces, whereas the BCS contains individual responses to a face-to-face interview. Where the mapping data currently provide information about crimes over the past month, respondents to the BCS are asked to recall details of crime that they have experienced during the year prior to the interview.

Offence categorisation

The local crime data provide information on six categories of crime: antisocial behaviour, burglary, robbery, vehicle crime, violence and 'other crime'. Anonymisation work is carried out on the data, to help prevent victims from being identified, the 'other' category includes some types of crime against the person alongside property crime like theft and shoplifting. While the BCS in turn does not cover all types of crime, offence categories are further separated and importantly, information is also gathered from respondents on crimes that are not reported to the police.


The local crime data provide information down to street level, though to further protect the confidentiality of victims the mapping is to an anonymous point on or near to the street where the incident happened, not the precise location. For the BCS studies held at the Archive, data are available at the wider Government Office Region level. Some BCS geographic data are available at lower-level resolutions such as Lower Super Output Area (LSOA), subject to Special Licence access conditions.

In summary, the online crime maps give a quick snapshot of recent local crime. This can provide contextual data for a variety of research topics, quite distinct from the information available from victimisation surveys. In keeping with current moves to release official information into the public domain via easy data visualisation, the crime mapping site is an excellent resource.