Crime maps aren't a gimmick. They'll make the police accountable.
Simon Jenkins couldn't be more wrong about street-level crime mapping (Whitehall's zest for data is pointless. They know so much, and do so little, 4 February). He suggests the information is "stupefying" and "useless". That is not how citizens have found it in cities like Los Angeles, where the LA Times even publishes the maps.
Our website, www.police.uk, received 200 million hits in its first week. Two-thirds of those who sent feedback felt better informed. We know from the trial we ran before launching the site that a large majority of people were positive about the information. Who wouldn't want to be sure, for instance, about the safety of their child's route to school?
I am bemused by Jenkins's contention that crime maps are "bureaucratic". We're not telling the police how to do their job. We're simply revealing, in an accessible format, data that the criminal justice system already collects but has been hidden from the public. Alongside the map, we provide the details of local police officers, how to get hold of them, and the next beat meeting. The whole point of crime mapping is that it transfers the power to hold the police to account from Whitehall to the public.
That is what our reform agenda is about: democratic accountability. In also giving people the power to elect a police and crime commissioner to hold their local force to account, we are transforming how the police answer to the people.
Jenkins questions our commitment to "a smaller and less intrusive state". But it's a mistake to confuse the essential requirement for information from public services with "top-down" interference, which is damaging. Without information about the performance of their local school, hospital or police force, how can citizens be in control?
No crime was "censored". All recorded crimes were shown. But I agree with Jenkins: not all information can be public. We have to protect the identity of victims, and that is why the maps give only approximate locations of crimes.
Jenkins says: "These maps are rubbish, since they are based not on the authoritative British Crime Survey but on a parlour game called 'police recorded crime'." Of course the British Crime Survey shows twice as much crime as the recorded figures. But since it is just that – a survey – how does Jenkins think it could usefully be mapped? In fact, one striking feature of the new site is that for the first time it revealed the reported incidents of antisocial behaviour that aren't treated as crimes – over 200,000 last month.
Jenkins claims that one police force already runs a better crime map. So a map that's accessible only to the people of one county is a good thing, but one for the whole population isn't? Far from ignoring local innovation, in six areas we're exploring how to give the public even more information, including on how the crime was dealt with in a criminal justice system that has been opaque for too long.
We live in the age of accountability and transparency. The public have a right to know what is happening on their streets. By opening up this information we are giving people real power – and strengthening the fight against crime.