PORTLAND – The city’s police have launched a computerized map to enable residents to find out what types of crimes are happening throughout the city and in their neighborhoods.

This week, officers got a demonstration of the program, which is now available to the public. The Web-based program shows a map of the city with various icons showing various types of crime.

The map is updated daily and can be manipulated to show crimes in specific sections of the city and within certain date ranges.

“We can go to meetings and talk about what we’re seeing, but it’s nothing like seeing it visually on a map,” said Police Chief James Craig. “It’s just another communication vehicle.”

The program, called Map Nimbus, was created by Geographic Technologies Group of North Carolina. Each morning, the department transfers information about calls for service from the previous 24 hours. That information is incorporated into the map database, which now includes incidents over three years.

A resident can examine the burglaries in his neighborhood for the past month, for instance, and that information can help them take precautions, Craig said.

“Suspects are predictable. They tend to work an area they’re comfortable with and where they’ve had success in the past,” he said.

Residents also can compare current crime trends to those in the same period three years ago, said Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

“Our main goal is to be transparent and always to educate the public about what the true state of crime is,” he said. “Information is really power. This gives John Q. Citizen the opportunity to do some research on their own, without having to contact a police officer.”

The program allows residents to sign up for e-mail alerts when crimes happen within a certain distance of their homes or workplaces. The program also lets users create charts to analyze the crime data.

The data does not include the status of crimes, such as whether an arrest has been made, or specific addresses. Particularly in cases such as domestic violence and sexual assault, alerting the public to someone’s misfortune could aggravate the situation.

Some residents are reserving judgment, worried that without context, the crime numbers might make people more fearful than they need to be.

“I think there are people who covet this sort of information,” said John Spritz, president of the Back Cove Neighborhood Association. “For them, there is no end to how much they can fret about this kind of thing. And I think there are many people who don’t care or don’t want to know.”

Neighborhoods in the Back Cove area had an unusual increase in burglaries this summer, prompting a neighborhood meeting and creation of a sort of crime watch list service, with the latest information about crime in the neighborhood.

Spritz worries that the map information could lead residents to barrage police with inquiries when a crime has happened in their neighborhood. However, some would argue that increased interaction is positive, he said.

Spritz said it remains to be seen how many people will use the new tool. “I hope we’re not going to be at the point where we’re all cowering, watching the Web for the next crime to occur,” he said.

Joan Sheedy thinks it’s all good.

Sheedy, a member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization’s advisory board and Portland Triad, a group that promotes safety for seniors, said people could use the information to stay safe.

“This is a wonderful idea,” she said. “We’re very interested in any crime that happens up here.”

The Police Department is using the software for free for the first year because its crime analyst, Lisa Boisvert, won a drawing at a crime analysts’ conference. After that, the department will have to pay; police officials were unable to say how much that might be.

The department will look for feedback from the public over the next year as part of its evaluation.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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