Websites give voyeurs view of neighborhood safety

By Alex Veiga, AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES — I have no reason to feel unsafe in my neighborhood, but I appear to be surrounded by dozens of people convicted of everything from theft and sex crimes to public drunkenness and speeding.Not that I think of my slice of Los Angeles as Wisteria Lane. But the sight of a map pinpointing exactly where these lawbreakers live — or once lived — can rattle your sense of what a safe neighborhood is.

I got some insight into the criminal quotient in my neighborhood on several websites that turn government data into interactive guides of criminal activity.

For home buyers, these sites can be a tempting tool to discern whether a neighborhood is rife with crime, or a great place to raise the kids. But how accurate are the pictures they portray?

One site that debuted Friday is

Created by the folks behind, the new site crunches monthly government data down to the state and county level, says Bryce Lane, president and chief operating officer of

“What we’re really good at is establishing connections across all these different data sets, linking it back to a particular person,” Lane said, acknowledging, however, that some data might be missing. The company also doesn’t tap into federal crime data.

The Neighborhood Watch feature lets you focus your search by address or ZIP code. You can also search by a person’s name or specific home address, and there’s a separate search with a detailed map of registered sex offenders.

Punch in the details and the site generates a map showing small squares that represent each person who resides — or previously resided — in the area and was convicted of a crime at some point. In some cases, the site will turn up people who were arrested, but never convicted.Click on an individual square and you can get the exact address for the person and a description of their violation, among other details.

The results can be eye-opening.

But as I dug deeper into the results I found that many people are listed for traffic violations, or a crime they committed decades ago, maybe in another state. offers a more current snapshot of crime.

In some of the metro areas, such as Los Angeles, the site links to the police department’s website, where users can generate neighborhood maps overlaid with crime data less than a week old.

Some sites take a wider approach, showing crime trends but not specific locations. taps Census data down to the each tract of land. It also works in FBI crime data at a county level. (The site plans to add city-level crime statistics in a few weeks.)

Like the other sites, PolicyMap lets you drill down to the neighborhood level surrounding a specific address. The map, uses a color system to show the degree to which a certain crime has occurred in the area.

PolicyMap also provides other community characteristics. You can see the percentage of campaign contributions that went to senators Barack Obama or John McCain, as well as the area’s ethnic composition, or even the percent of all home loans that were subprime.


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This article by Alex Veiga of the Associated Press was published July 18th, 2008 and appeared in the following publications (and many others).