Comparing the Democratic Governance of Police Intelligence New Models of Participation and Expertise in the United States and Europe
New Models of Participation and Expertise in the United States and Europe
Edited by Thierry Delpeuch and Jacqueline E. Ross
Chapter 4: Information as a form of democratic participation in policing: some critical reflections on the role and use of online crime maps in the United Kingdom
Democratic societies are based on the principle that citizens are adequately aware of their human and civil rights and have access to substantive information about prominent social, political and economic issues to form opinions and engage in deliberative mechanisms of one sort or another. The policies of governments on the amount, flow and quality of public information therefore have the capacity to enable or constrain democratic participation. The level and accessibility of official information about crime and policing in the United Kingdom have undergone radical change with the introduction of the transparency agenda. In 2010, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced his intention to create ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’. This agenda is an attempt to render previously closed sources of information freely available in the public domain, using the internet and digital technologies as the main modes of communication (HM Government, 2012). In this context, the publication by the Home Office, in January 2011, of new information about crime in the form of interactive street-level maps hosted on a central web portal (http://www.police.uk/) has been heralded as an important tool underpinning democratic policing in the UK (Home Office, 2010; Jones et al., 2012). This chapter considers the role and usefulness of this information source in extending democratic engagement in policing. My critical reflections focus principally on the British experience of publishing crime maps on the internet, albeit they may apply more broadly as other governments follow similar policy paths. Some comparisons are drawn with the United States, where police departments have a longer history of making crime maps available. The US offers fertile ground for research evidence on the relationship between crime maps and democratic participation as police studies have examined the impact of providing community groups with crime mapping technology and introducing crime maps in beat meetings. The chapter first sets out the democratic ambitions of the UK Government’s policy development. Second, it critically examines the dominant assumption that crime maps offer citizens better quality of information than traditional crime statistics as a means of drawing people into democratic processes of policing. It draws together insights from theories of cartographic communication, semiotics and existing conceptual models of citizen participation. The third part considers the role of information in different types and levels of engagement with and participation in policing. The fourth part extends this analysis to reflect upon the potential of crime maps to make existing channels of communication, specifically public meetings held by the police, more robust democratic fora. Finally, the chapter considers the role of crime maps in fostering self-help policing and community crime prevention activities. The chapter provides tentative conclusions about the potential of this contemporary initiative to achieve its policy aims and calls for research into the possible (mis)uses and unintended consequences of such publicly provided information.
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