Crime maps 'will guide criminals'

Internet guides to crime hotspots will expose vital intelligence, police warn</p><p>By Ben Russellhome affairs correspondent
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The Independent Online

By Ben Russellhome affairs correspondent

Criminals will be handed vital intelligence about police tactics by a new system of local internet crime maps being introduced by forces across the country, the leader of rank-and-file police officers has warned.

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation in England and Wales, said the maps, which are designed to give communities information on burglaries, muggings and car crimes in their neighbourhoods, could help professional criminals plan new offences.

He warned that the maps, which are due to be posted by the end of the year, would allow offenders to track the high-crime areas most likely to be targeted by police. Some officers are concerned that criminals will use the information to shift their activities into previously low-crime areas, in the hope that they are less heavily targeted by police.

Mr McKeever, whose members include police officers up to the rank of chief inspector, said: "We do not want to see crime-mapping getting to the extent that criminals can use it for their benefit. Petty criminals will not pay much attention to this stuff, but the more serious criminal might look at this. Why should we be putting out information that might be tangentially of use?

"I'm all for being open. But this is background information for criminals. I'm very reluctant to pass that on to criminals who could use that to their benefit."

There has also been concern that crime maps could detrimentally affect the price of houses or drive up insurance premiums. A spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said: "We support efforts by the Government to reduce crime. But our concern is that publishing information could be to the detriment of local house prices."

The Metropolitan Police launched a crime-mapping project earlier this year after Boris Johnson pledged to introduce the scheme in his manifesto for the London mayoralty.

Earlier this year, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, pledged that all forces would start to roll out similar schemes by the end of the year.

Under the Met scheme, people can enter their postcode and get a report on incidents of car crime, burglary and robbery down to "sub-wards" of between two and 10 streets.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has welcomed the initiative, although sources made it clear that crime maps would be designed to avoid giving away operational police intelligence that could damage day-to-day tactics by officers.

The shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said: "We believe that any potential disadvantage to crime-mapping is far outweighed by the benefits. Anything that brings the police and the public closer together has to be a good thing."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We believe the provision of crime maps is central to our commitment to strengthen the connection between the police and the public through a new form of local accountability and a new policing pledge."