Wednesday, 30 September 2015

South African Crime Stats - demonstrating the potential of open data

So I see that the latest crime stats were published yesterday. In the last 24 hours, there have been many articles, graphs and infographics produced from these stats for newspaper articles, websites, etc. The challenge with these is that it focuses on the headlines and does not give people the information that is meaningful to them. For example, this morning someone in the office mentioned this article "Cape’s safest and unsafest areas" and wanted to know "but where does my area fit into this picture?".

Fortunately I have found at least 2 websites (there might be more) that provide an answer to this question. The two websites are and The ISS website also has a lot more infographics, videos and other resources - but I guess that this (crime) is their business, so one would expect them to have this information. I was more interested in the one as this appears to be a private initiative but also seemed to more easily have the information that I needed. I could not understand from the website exactly who is behind this initiative other than it is run by Meerkat Data Management. 

When you get to the site, you see all the police stations mapped across the areas (precincts) that they serve and this is colour coded according to the severity of crime in that precinct. 

You can then enter your address and it will take you to a view of your precinct. I chose Woodstock as that is the police precinct that I live in (although you do not need to know that. You can just type in your address).

 As you can see from the above picture, I live in a high crime area. Then you can click on the link and it takes you to the details of what makes up these statistics and provide you with a view of that data over the last 10 years. The picture below is just a sample of the various categories that is reported on. I assume that this maps back to the way that SAPS categories the crimes.
So I can see that in my area "Assault with the intent to inflict grievious bodily harm" incidents have increased from 57 in 2014 to 75 in 2015.

I must say that I found this site to be incredibly useful in making the crime stats information more relevant to me as a citizen. More importantly however, both these platforms demonstrates the power of open data. These platforms have, in less than 1 day, taken the crime stats information made available from government, and put it on a comprehensive map based platform that displays the information in a more easy  to use (citizen focused) format. This is what open data is all about. It government just puts the information out there, people will find uses for the information in ways that make sense to them. Government does not have to be putting huge cost and effort in building systems that will display this information, etc. It just needs to make meaningful data available - hopefully in a format that is usable. In this case, SAPS just made the data available in an Excel format ( 

I think that this is a good example of what is possible when citizens have access to the data. There is much more that can be done with this information to plug the information gaps that we have. This is a good start. Government needs to be encouraged to make more and more information open in formats that citizens and businesses can use. Open data is an incredible resource that can help us grow our economy. Examples such as this help us build the case to encourage government (National, Provincial and Local) to embrace open data and the potential of a truly connected society. 

Do you have other examples?