For this week’s ITConversations show I spoke with Greg Whisenant, founder of CrimeReports.com. His company, called Public Engines, has ambitions to offer a range of services that enable citizens to access public data. CrimeReports, the flagship, aims to generalize the process of data extraction and reformulation that was done by Adrian Holovaty for ChicagoCrime.org. It works by installing software behind the police department’s firewall that relays crime data from internal reporting systems to the CrimeReports service.
Participating towns and cities all become part of single federated mapping application. So if two towns are adjacent, you’ll just pan seamlessly across the political border. It’s a cool idea, and makes you wonder about how a service/syndication-oriented architecture could enable federation across different mapping applications.
What’s particularly exciting to Greg, and to me as well, is the way in which these kinds of applications begin to create a framework for citizen/government collaboration. To that end, it’ll be important to roll out these services at a pace, and in a way, that enables governments to feel comfortable as they move to a more transparent stance. So CrimeReports does things in a pretty controlled way. Police departments can internally preview the application before it’s released, and there’s also the option to run more detailed analysis internally than is available to the public.
What worries me a little, though, is that CrimeReports implementations don’t (so far) yield up feeds of the underlying data. I understand the reasons why not. But I think it’s crucial that citizens will come to expect such access, and will be encouraged to make effective use of it.
First things first, to be sure. Systems that enable citizens both report and review a variety of events in the lives of their cities will bring a new and welcome era of collaboration. But let’s make sure the data flowing through those systems is, and remains, available.