Police crime maps don't show public full picture

A CBC News investigation has found the Edmonton Police knowingly post inaccurate neighbourhood crime maps on the internet due to privacy concerns.
This is the Oliver neighbourhood crime map that's available for the public to view online. (CBC)
A CBC News investigation has found the Edmonton Police knowingly post inaccurate neighbourhood crime maps on the Internet.

Police admit the dots representing specific crimes are applied randomly on the crime maps to protect the privacy of the victims.

The admission from police came after they were shown internal crime maps obtained by CBC that accurately reflect crime in specific neighbourhoods.

Only police officers and civilian police employees such as crime analysts have access to these maps.

This is the map of the same neighbourhood that is available only for employees of the Edmonton Police Service. The white dots indicate locations where multiple crimes took place. (CBC)
"When things get randomly shifted, it can appear to be different numbers," says Joanne Graham, project manager for the police department's crime-mapping website.  "But if you were to actually hover over these, you would find they are the same number of crimes."

CBC obtained an internal map for the central Edmonton neighbourhood of Oliver. At the southeastern edge of the neighbourhood, there are several dots representing a series of assaults and robberies. But on the internal map those dots are white, which represent multiple crimes at one address. 

By contrast, on the public site, those dots are scattered and do not show the real locations of crimes.

Difference surprises crime watchdog

The Edmonton Neighbourhood Watch Program Society monitors crime in the city using the the neighbhourhood crime maps posted by police on their website.

Executive director Paul Lepine told CBC he was surprised to learn the maps are not accurate.

"It would bother me in a way," he said, "The finer tuned or the more accurate it is, the better it is for everyone." 

Still, Lepine said the maps are useful for his group and he says he understands why police change exact locations of crimes.

Police also occasionally do not post some crimes on their public website.

"There are investigations that are deemed to be sensitive for reasons," Graham says. "All that information is locked down and we don't release it."