Plans by Boris Johnson, the new mayor of London, to make the capital the first UK city to publish detailed “maps” of reported crime are facing delays because of confusion over their legality.
There are also renewed warnings from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the estate agents body, that the plans risk contributing to a fall in house prices. “Publicising high crime areas in such detail could literally wipe thousands off house prices overnight, further disadvantaging those who are already struggling to make ends meet,” a Rics spokesman said last night.
As part of the Conservative party’s commitment to make data more widely available, Mr Johnson has told the Metropolitan police that he wants detailed maps, focusing on problematic streets and boroughs. He believes the US-style documents could be used to more accurately reflect crime levels in every area and help ensure police borough commanders are held to account at monthly public meetings.
But the privacy watchdog has told police chiefs it believes the dissemination of detailed information could breach data protection laws.
The warning is a setback for Mr Johnson, who wants to be seen delivering the scheme early in his tenure. It will also do little to smooth the relationship between Sir Ian Blair and deputy mayor Kit Malthouse, the newly appointed police adviser, who in January criticised the Met chief for being too pro-Labour.
Discussions involving the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Met – as yet without agreement – could have implications for policing nationally, with London a potential test case for how far mapping can go.
The government has declared broadly its intention to increase the amount of police data available to local communities as part of its anti-crime strategy.
Jack Straw, justice secretary, is next month expected to unveil plans for police probation officers and social workers to focus on streets with a high incidence of criminality as part of a strategy to reduce re-offending.
But Mr Straw’s plans, along with pilot schemes in West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, fall short of the number of offences and geographical detail that Mr Johnson and the Tories want put into the public domain.
The ICO says it recognises the benefits of crime mapping to help police forces plan an effective deployment of officers. But it believes policymakers and the police need to weigh up the intended benefits against the potential intrusion.
A spokesman for the ICO said: “We believe that this will involve carefully considering what level of detail, both of the offences themselves and where they take place, should be placed in the public domain. There is a risk that revealing exactly where a particular crime took place could lead to the identification of victims who may wish to remain anonymous.”
A spokesman for the mayor said: “Crime mapping is a proven technique for increasing public safety and deploying resources, such as additional officers, to crime hotspots where they are needed the most. They can also be used to develop effective long-term policies for crime reduction.
“Given the vast potential and benefits of this initiative, the mayor is keen to introduce crime mapping across London and is working closely with the information officer to resolve any difficulties speedily and satisfactorily.”