Interesting stuff - I've been playing around with the new Police.UK website, which provides hyper-local information on crime and anti-social behaviour reports at a neighbourhood level.
You just type in your postcode and up pops the statistics for your area, including 'hotspot maps'. Here are a couple of examples from around my home and work:
The website shows that in December 2010, Green Street East ward had a higher level of crime and anti-social behaviour than Forest Gate and both were much higher than Stratford, which is something of a surprise.
It also gives the details of the police's 'impossible to get hold of' local Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT), should you prefer vague reassurance and inaction to finding out who actually burgled your house or smashed up your car. How this information is actually useful, however, is unclear.
Local people have almost no say in local policing except through the aforementioned SNTs and my experience is that these are a waste of time - at best involving lots of effort for no long-term impact. I spend several years talking to the local officers in my area and repeatedly reporting every incident on my street but it has never stopping the dealers from selling drugs in the entrance of my home. Instead, I found it was taking over my life, causing more and more worry and stress, without ever finding a genuine solution. I never once heard, for example, that talking to an SNT officer led to an arrest for the vandalism, graffiti or anti-social behaviour that my neighbours and I suffered.
An interesting lunchtime distraction, then - but I suspect Police.UK will have limited value in actually holding the police to account.
UPDATE - The wonderfully named Conrad Quilty-Harper in the Telegraph isn't impressed either - he points out that the site does not include information on how many crimes are still unsolved, there is no live data (its updated monthly) and 'other crimes' includes "everything from drug dealing to bank robberies in one handy, impossible to understand category". He suggests that a spreadsheet would be cheaper and more useful - although as we know, there is a certain reluctance amongst public bodies to release data in an accessible format.
UPDATE 2 - and this afternoon, the website crashed. Impressive.