One tech entrepreneur based in Georgetown, Guyana is taking a fresh approach to the country's crime problems. Vijay Datadin is the main player behind Guyana Crime Reports, the country's newest data journalism website. Guyana Crime Reports combines GIS mapping and crowdsourced crime detection to bring a fresh look to traditional online reporting.
Datadin says the site was born of the desire not to report news, but to fight crime. This goal is undoubtedly supported by the fact that Datadin is also the founder of Red Spider, a small web development startup, which today maintains Guyana Crime Reports’ presence on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, where its handle is @GuyanaCrime.
The tweets give concise, but specific information:
Two held with grenades, M16 rifle and ammo http://t.co/z0B4H3OxuJ #Guyana
— Guyana Crime Reports (@GuyanaCrime) January 23, 2014
Police badge triggers shooting of cop during robbery http://t.co/pLHRyUf0J1 #Guyana
— Guyana Crime Reports (@GuyanaCrime) January 19, 2014
The site's Facebook page often shares more detailed stories of robberies, etc. by linking to mainstream media reports.
Guyana Crime Reports is part news aggregator, making it a good one-stop source for various crime reports related to Guyana, published in local and international news media. Citizens can submit crime reports through a form on the website, although those reports are verified more rigorously than stories aggregated from established media sources. On the site, incidents of crime are organised into different categories, ranging from fatal crime to domestic abuse – and users can get alerts from the site should an incident happen within 20 kilometers of their location.
Encouraging Conversations About Crime
Red Spider is considering forging informal relationships directly with journalists who share their interest in improving the way that crime is reported in Guyana – the aim being not to compete with established media companies, but rather to enhance the essential news service that they provide.
For Datadin, it is exciting to think of traditional and new media working together, as he believes they share a common goal, existing not just to distribute information but also to help readers make sense of large amounts of information over time. He has embraced the responsibility of helping followers understand how local crime fits into a larger national picture:
As a citizen [of Guyana], it would be to my benefit if crime went down. I'm doing this not for any immediate commercial benefit but because I think it needed to be done. There [has] to be a public conversation about crime…based not only on opinion but on facts, one that affords a more reasoned and inclusive debate about factors that cause crime and the policies that can help curb it.
He sees a more informed public as a critical part of having constructive discussions about crime, but concedes that the site has taken only early evolutionary steps toward that goal. His ultimate objective is to have a positive impact not just on public discourse, but on public policy. The company has already made what he calls “soft approaches” to the Guyana Police Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Mapping Crime Trends
Datadin holds a postgraduate Masters degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from Edinburgh University, Scotland. Plus, the word ‘data’ is literally in his name! No surprise, then, that Guyana Crime Reports relies heavily on maps to visually represent the spread and scope of crime, thereby helping users of the service to see exactly where an incident took place.
By making the crime maps public, Guyana Crime Reports effectively creates an equal opportunity for anyone seeking to understand how crime is trending both in their area and nationally. Both the public and policing officials can review the map and detect trends, both in specific areas and throughout the country as a whole. According to Datadin:
You can see not just what happened recently but what has been happening over time.
By using maps to visualise crime data, Guyana Crime Reports has already set a significant precedent for digital journalism in the region. Its popularity and success thus far suggest that audiences across the region would benefit if more Caribbean newsrooms added maps to their arsenal of storytelling tools.