Crime and Transparency

Crime impacts every community. The information generated from incidents of crime fuels a wide variety of news stories and apps that keep people updated on important public safety issues. In the era of open data and online access to media and government sources, there appears to be a proliferation of crime information shared with the public: How that data is shared from the original source, however, varies widely. Improving the quality and format of crime data releases would help encourage the continued creation of stories and apps, keeping the public better informed about an issue that many local governments already closely track.

Sunlight Research and Blogs on Crime Data

Crime Data Research — This editable research document explores how cities release crime data, who uses the data, and more.

The Landscape of Municipal Crime Data — Cities have many different levels of disclosure when it comes to releasing crime data online: find out what kinds of information cities are sharing.

Crime Data Recommendations

Recommendations for Stronger Crime Data — Though many cities release some crime data online or have the data in a format that can fuel apps and maps, there are several steps cities should consider for improving the openness of crime data and its ability to be reused and analyzed. Many of these ideas can be found in our Open Data Policy Guidelines.

  1. Mandate open formats, require public information to be posted online, remove restrictions for access, and remove restrictions on reuse of information Crime data would benefit from being made more technically open. That means municipalities should explore opportunities to share the data online in formats that are non-proprietary, searchable, sortable, and machine-readable, and without restrictions for accessing and reusing that information. Without following these basic tenants, the data remains locked up in inaccessible formats or restrictive licenses that not only prevent the public from accessing the information on their own, but could cause problems for governments needing to share or analyze data that spans multiple jurisdictions or departments, as well.

  2. Mandate ongoing data publication and updates and create a public, comprehensive list of all information holdings Timeliness is key for crime data. Having data that lags by months (or a year or more, as with the federal compilation of local crime data) doesn’t help keep the public informed about what’s happening now in their neighborhoods. Technology has enabled faster and more continual, real-time sharing of this vital information, and governments should use that opportunity to bolster public access. Creating a public, comprehensive list of information related to crime would also help the public understand what data is gathered, what is released, which government departments or jurisdictions monitor crime data, and acknowledge what information is kept private. This kind of listing would be especially helpful for reporters looking to dig deeper into specific incidents or do investigative reporting about details that go beyond what’s released publicly.

  3. Appropriately safeguard sensitive information Details are important with crime data, but some details need to be safeguarded to protect those impacted by the incident. Those who hold crime data need to think about redacting information that could infringe on the privacy or security of people (whether they are police officers, victims, witnesses, or suspects), though these privacy exemptions should not be a barrier to data release. Rather, exemptions should be balance-tested against the public interest in accessing that information.

  4. Create permanent, lasting access to data Maintaining public access to crime data is especially important as crime trends change over time and are a prime dataset for reporters and researchers to use in investigations (not to mention for the government itself as it looks to reduce crime). This kind of historical data can help show changes in a city over time — for better or for worse — and help reveal important narratives about the community and the effects of policies.

  5. Create processes to ensure data quality Data quality, for crime, has to strike a careful balance between its completeness (a necessity for reuse, research, and analysis) and the privacy concerns of those impacted by crime. This can be a difficult task: many local governments choose to obfuscate crime data to the block level to protect the addresses of those involved (some crime map providers even appear to do this automatically). Privacy and safety concerns are complicated, but not impossible, and there are many organizations exploring the necessary judgment calls and complexities involved.

  6. Provide definitions with data as to how crimes are defined — Explaining the different kinds of crime (especially if they differ at all from the FBI definitions) is important to helping people understand what actually occurred. Without this context, users viewing crime data or crime maps are left to wonder what the thresholds are for different crime categories, a challenge to research and analysis alike.

The Impact of Opening Up Crime Data

From empowering apps that help visualize the information to investigative news stories, open crime data can have a big impact on a community. Learn more below and on our blog.

Crime blotters, news stories, and maps:

  • city police blotter — This news feed lets the public access the latest news from the Fredericksburg, VA, Police Department online.

  • Baltimore Crime Beat — This news feed provides the public with crime news written by the Baltimore Sun.

  • Battle Creek Enquirer Police, Fire and Courts News — The Battle Creek Enquirer in Battle Creek, MI, provides the public with stories about local crime and more in this news feed.

  • Oakland Crimespotting — A group in Oakland, CA, saw several drawbacks to the city’s CrimeWatch map, so they developed Oakland Crimespotting using the same data in different ways.

  • MinnPost Crime Map — This interactive page provides a map and infographics to let users explore different kinds of crime in the St. Paul, MN, area.

  • Crime in St. Paul — This interactive page provides a map and infographics to let users explore different kinds of crime in the Minneapolis, MN, area

  • Tulsa World Crime Tracker — This searchable crime database leads to a map of crime in the Tulsa, OK, area.

  • Crime L.A. — This page provides the public with news stories, data, and more about crime in Los Angeles.


  • Stumble Safely — Now retired, Stumble once helped users find a safe path home from the bar by mashing Washington, DC’s crime data with information like DC’s data on liquor licenses, parks, and metro stations, as well as the user’s GPS location.