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Mapping crime in your neighborhood just got easier and sleeker. Law enforcement agencies across the region have begun posting crime information to a new online interactive tool.

The website, CrimeMapping.com, is free to the public and a major improvement from the region’s previous crime mapping system.

The new site works the same as popular online mapping websites like Mapquest and Google Maps. Plug in an address, city or law enforcement agency, and the map will zoom to your results. You can then zoom in or out and easily scan for crimes in the surrounding area. Pinpointing crime problems in neighborhoods and putting them in a broader context — such as the impact of nearby businesses, parks or roads — now takes just a few minutes.

Here are four key points:

1. More Crime Data, Faster

Two years ago, I wanted to figure out where San Diego police arrest the most people for prostitution. Because of the old mapping system’s limitations, I had to request crime data from police, wait for them to compile it and then map that data myself. The process took about a week and paid off by pointing me to El Cajon Boulevard.

Interviews helped me piece together a history of the notorious thoroughfare. An economic depression long ago planted underground trades like street prostitution that the community has since been unable to uproot entirely.

My analysis showed police made the arrests near 30th and El Cajon Boulevard, but I’ve since wondered whether that concentration has shifted. On Tuesday, I tried updating my analysis with the new online mapping tool and got an answer in seconds. Police still make the most arrests around 30th and El Cajon Boulevard.

Using the new tool, I created a map that extends far beyond a one-mile radius to show the breadth of prostitution along El Cajon Boulevard and includes a six-month slice of crime data.

2. Community Planning Ammunition

Readers often ask me about crimes occurring near businesses or proposed shops so they can use those crime figures at planning hearings. I referred readers to the old crime mapping system and will start referring them to the new one.

With more data, the new tool becomes a more visually powerful asset in these debates. Some of the city’s most heated planning discussions involve liquor-licensed businesses in Pacific Beach, North Park and downtown.

As an example of the new tool’s capabilities, I created this map that shows aggravated assaults in the last six months in the downtown area. The bulk of incidents occurred in the Gaslamp Quarter, downtown’s nightlife core.

3. Sharing and Alerting

My favorite new feature is the ease of sharing your maps. Click the link icon in the upper right corner of the map (it looks like a paperclip) and the tool will create a unique website URL for your map. Then you can email, tweet or post that link online. You can explore my prostitution map here and my aggravated assaults map here.

CrimeMapping.com also allows you to sign up for crime alerts. You plug in an address, choose a radius of up to two miles away and select which types of crimes you want to be notified of. Then, when police report new crimes, the website sends you an email.

4. Continued Limitations

Last year, I wrote a story about an infamous drug corner near the southeastern edge of downtown San Diego. I pinpointed the area as a regional hotspot after analyzing an annual database of drug arrests. Trying to update that analysis with the new online tool highlights a few of its limitations.

The new system limits results to a maximum 800 crimes. That becomes more of a problem as you zoom out or try to analyze more common crimes, such as drug or alcohol violations, over a lengthy period of time.

San Diego police have made so many drug arrests in the last six months that I had to zoom into the block level to come under the new system’s 800-crime limit. My new map shows many drug arrests still happen in East Village, but keeps broader comparisons about drug activity in the region out of reach.

Police also haven’t included their deep reservoir of historical crime data in the new tool, which makes mapping annual crime trends more difficult. You can always find annual crime data online, but compiling it into a visually useful map takes more time and expertise.

But what do you think about the new crime mapping system? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email. If you find an interesting crime trend in your neighborhood, be sure to let me know, too.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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