- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Metropolitan Police Department’s online crime-mapping technology, which gives users real-time access to crime statistics citywide and in their neighborhoods, is expected to be back online this week after a six-week hiatus, police said.

The removal of the information from the police department’s website has limited residents’ access to crime data at a time that police officials have warned robberies are on the rise in the District.

The crime-mapping data, introduced in 2006, was taken offline in late December after the police department reconfigured the boundaries of its districts and its beat-level boundaries, called police service areas. Users could sort data found on the police website by crime type, date and neighborhood to provide individualized reports on crime across the District.

“We hope to have it rectified soon, and we are eager to get it back up,” MPD spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

The lapse comes at a time that Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier says the District is experiencing an increase in robberies and thefts, specifically those targeting smartphones and similar electronics.

“This is really a very local crime. They are taking items locally and selling locally,” Chief Lanier said. “We’re seeing things stolen and resold within a couple of hours.”

Speaking about three robberies that occurred Monday night in affluent upper Northwest neighborhoods, Cmdr. Michael Reese called the increase he’s seen in the 2nd District a “deep concern.”

Monday night’s robberies were likely committed by the same suspects and bring the total number of robberies in the 2nd District to 33 this year, police said. Last year, as of Feb. 13, there were 22 robberies reported in the police district.

“People are beginning to not feel safe,” said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, who represents the area.

Police said the 476 robberies reported as of Feb. 7 were spread fairly evenly across the District, but the lack of the crime-mapping tool has prevented residents from being able to easily chart those and other crime trends.

Though the technology is expected to return soon, the police union is questioning why the valuable tool has been out of service for so long.

“The realignment had been going on for a year. There is no reason why there couldn’t be a seamless transition,” Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann said. “Why not leave the crime numbers up until they switched the [police service areas] over?”

Citing differences in crime statistics provided to residents and those the department annually turns over to the FBI, Mr. Baumann said he also distrusts the statistics provided by police without the District-wide crime numbers available for public scrutiny.

While the police department distributes daily crime information in other ways, residents said the crime-mapping is a key component to understanding crime trends in their own neighborhoods.

Community activist Keith Jarrell said he monitors local listservs and alert systems for crime updates in his 4th District neighborhood, but complains that information distributed through those means is sometimes untimely or piecemeal. The online crime-mapping tool compiles information for a “more complete picture” of crime trends within D.C. neighborhoods, he said.

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