UK charity Witness Confident has launched a new website designed to help victims of violent crime report the details to the police online, including posting witness appeals and pinpointing the crime on a Google map.
Witness Confident – which is funded by the Nuffield, Allen Lane and Wates Foundations – will operate the StreetViolence.org service across London free-of charge-for a year.
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“As a way of telling the police you can help, the site is a welcome alternative to hanging behind at the scene, standing around at a police station or waiting in line at a call centre,” says Guy Dehn, director of Witness Confident. “This matters as there’s little chance the police can make our streets safer if witnesses don’t come forward.”
However, it’s worth noting here that the platform is unofficial and doesn’t have the endorsement of the police, which says such a website could actually delay an inquiry.
Scotland Yard has been liaising with the charity for more than a year after expressing interest in some of its early proposed features. However, earlier this month, the authorities finally decided not to officially support the site.
“We do not endorse the reporting of street crime through the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) website or any other third party website,” a Met Police spokesperson said. “This is predominantly due to concerns over victim safety and the importance of deploying officers in person as quickly as possible to the scenes of serious street crime. Street crime is taken very seriously by the MPS, and in order to reduce street crime and catch offenders, the MPS urges victims to contact police in the quickest way possible by calling 999 or speaking to an officer on patrol nearby.”
On the map, you’ll see a load of markers across London, some will have ‘A’ (Arrested) or ‘R’ (Result) on it, whilst others will be blank and are colour-coded depending on whether they’ve yet to be officially reported or whether the police are looking in to it.
Most of the current markers are dummy ones to illustrate how the map is used. You can plot your own ‘crime’ by dragging and dropping a yellow marker onto the map, at which point you’ll be asked to provide details.
According to stats provided by Witness Confident, four out of five street robberies that are reported to the police are never solved. In London – where last year the Met Police recorded 36,615 robberies – the offenders were apprehended in just 16% of cases.
The British Crime Survey estimates that there were 248,000 robberies across the country last year, of which just under half were reported to the police. Violent attacks by strangers were more common: with an estimated 885,000 such attacks in England & Wales, of which only 40% were reported to the police.
As well-meaning as the site is, I’m not convinced it will prove to be a fruitful endeavour, especially without the endorsement of the police. If you’ve been the victim of a robbery or attack on the street, are you more likely to call 999 at the next available opportunity, or log-on to a website to report it through there? There’s also the issue of marketing – a lot of promotional work would need to go into this site to get the good word out there, whereas ‘999’ has been drilled into most people from a young age.
Such a site could be useful, as is intended, for others to see where violent crimes have taken place in their area. However, there is already an existing crime-mapping service provided by the police, as we’ve reported on before. Though, as the information on StreetViolence.org is put on the site by the public, the charity says it hopes it can win the confidence of those skeptical of official crime data.