Home Articles Empowering community neighbourhood watch with crime monitoring system using Web-Based GIS

Empowering community neighbourhood watch with crime monitoring system using Web-Based GIS

Faizah Yunus
Department of Social Administration and Justice
[email protected]

Rosilawati Zainol
[email protected]

Nikmatul Adha Nordin
[email protected]

Syra Lawrance Maidin
[email protected]

Urban Studies and Planning Programme, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences,
University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The purpose of this study is to examine the potential of using Web-based GIS application in neighbourhood crime monitoring system in Subang Jaya. The study uses SWOT analysis to evaluate the Web-based GIS features and components if it is to be handled by the neighbourhood community. Studies reveal that Web-based GIS has tremendous benefits. Besides display of updated incidents in a neighbourhood, residents can also view crime types and patterns. In addition, with the provision of a reporting platform, residents can share their knowledge on criminal incidents with their neighbours. However, a trained person is needed to update the data continuously. This needs to be carried out on a weekly basis so as to provide updated information to the residents. Furthermore, the trained person must be able to work closely with the neighborhood gate keeper to ensure publishing of accurate information. With the implementation of this system, a community is ever ready to safeguard the neighbourhood.

Neighbourhood is a place where people live together. They share common geographical boundaries, basic amenities, accessibilities, etc. However, neighborhood boundaries are defined differently by different parties. Residents of a neighbourhood define neighbourhood boundaries based on the people with whom they interact regularly. However, local government defines neighborhood boundaries according to streets that are used to deploy services and maintenance. Likewise, the police defines boundaries according to the patrol areas which might incorporate neighbourhoods that do not interact with each other (Wilson, 2009). The size of boundaries varies according to these definitions. As an example, for residents, the neighborhood boundaries may be too small. Likewise, according to local authorities and the police, neighbourhood incorporates a large area. Therefore, the use of technology might be able to provide a sense of belonging to the residents of a neighborhood. Internet enables various technologies to provide a sense of belonging. These include social networking sites like Facebook, forums and web portals. Web-based GIS applications such as Google Map are the usual link to these sites to provide geographic position of any event. Therefore, this article examines the potential of using Web-based GIS application in neighbourhood crime monitoring system.

Crime prevention
Crime prevention is everybody’s business. To be effective, crime prevention requires cooperation by all elements of the community because when neighbours work together, crime prevention can improve the quality of life of every resident. Making the neighbourhood safer implies combining the efforts of law enforcement personnel and community members to prevent people from getting on the wrong side of the law. In other words, crime prevention should be considered as an approach that enforces laws and ensures order in daily activities of the community and reduces public fear of crime.

Crime results from combination of many factors. Therefore, there is a need to have a community safety audit to identify problems and understand the community. Information should be collected such as who is involved in crime prevention activities in the community, social and physical characteristics of a community, nature of crimes in the area, identifying potential partners and planning suitable crime prevention programmes. Community safety audit is an integral part of a successful crime prevention programme.

Why community is important in preventing crime?
Communities are formed and created by neighbourhoods (Wilson, 2009). They share similar experiences, availability and quality of local housing, schools and human services that are provided within their neighbourhoods. Therefore, they experience similar effects of crimes that occur within their neighbourhoods’ boundaries (Wilson, 2009).

The core problem of crime is similar in every country, but the ways to deal with crime can vary considerably. Because there are similar crime problems, it is useful to learn about ways to prevent crime and create a safe community. Anywhere in the world, there are three main ways to prevent crime:

  • Using the criminal justice system (police, courts, prisons etc.) to deter people from committing crime or to removing them from circulation so that they cannot commit any more crimes
  • Reducing the opportunities for crime to occur. This is called situational crime prevention and usually entails improvements to the physical security or design of buildings and neighborhoods;
  • Reducing the motivation to offend. This is sometimes called criminality prevention or social crime prevention.

Crime is committed depending on three players: an offender, the potential victim, and the ‘environment’ where a crime is likely to be committed. Therefore, for a crime to be committed depends on the interactions and presence of these three elements. To prevent a crime also depends on these three components. So who should take the lead in building a safer community?

Local governments need to invest in social crime prevention to control crime. Good social crime prevention would enable babies to grow up to be considerate children, pro-social adolescents and responsible adults. A social crime prevention programme would contain most of the following elements:

  • Support for parents before and after child-birth, by health workers;
  • Parenting skills training and family support, by people trained in developmental psychology;
  • Good quality nursery and pre-school provision;
  • Personal, social and moral education in schools;
  • Adequate play and youth activities (of the type that children and young people want);
  • Training and employment for useful or meaningful work;
  • Supported accommodation for people with particular needs or vulnerabilities;
  • Help to overcome or reduce the damage caused by alcohol and other drug dependencies;
  • Mediation and other community based conflict resolution services.

Solving crime through partnerships requires leadership and coordination, sustained involvement and contact with the community. Partnership is a way of using the resources and skills in a community in such a way that all partners benefit and crime is reduced. To prevent crime effectively, the precious crime control resources need to be used to make it more difficult to commit crime and get away with it and to concentrate on effective criminal justice system and social crime prevention. Visible policing is an effective strategy to reduce fear of crime; reduce street crime and promote order in the community. But community members are also one of the most effective elements in crime fighting. Community is the most visible responder to issues relating to public safety and is acknowledged as an authority responsible for preventing crime and maintaining order amongst the members. Several communities are already empowered to help fight crime and reduce fear of crime amongst community members. It is also important to maintain the existing level of community support and participation. Community members can share ideas and information about those affected by crime; draft action that can be taken by potential victims; develop community mobilisation and coordinate crime prevention activities and lobby for other agencies to get involved in preventing crime.

Web-based GIS application
Geographic information system or GIS is a computer information system that has the capability of capturing, storing, manipulating and displaying geo-referenced data (Al- Sabhan, 2003; Worboys, 1995). Its usage is normally centralised and handled by knowledge personnel. Due to its complexity, platform dependency and expensiveness, not many organisations benefit from GIS. However, the Internet and the World Wide Web have provided a platform for the public to use GIS application on their Web browsers.

Web-based GIS is an extension of GIS. Web-based GIS application is widely used in various disciplines today. Urban management, tourism application, public participation, precision farming, urban management, e-government, crime control, epidemics management and monitoring and business are some of the examples.

Moreover, the potential of Web-based GIS should not be underestimated (Dragicevic, 2004). Since the early 2000s, Web-based GIS has offered various benefits. It is freely accessible, it doesn’t require installation on the client side, it is easily updated and requires no boundaries. Examples of Web-based GIS applications include GoogleMap, Wikimapia, Yahoo! Local Maps, iGuide Interactive Travel Guide and MapQuest. However, the effectiveness of the available applications is still being evaluated. GoogleMap, for example, provides information based on users’ input (R. Zainol et al., 2010). The more users’ input on certain areas, the more information other users will gain.

The use of Web-based GIS applications in Malaysia started in early 2000s (Beh & Alias, 2003). Recently, these applications have gained popularity among Peninsular Malaysia Town and Country Planning Department and Malaysia Geoportal (JPBD, 2010; MacGDI, 2010). However, the current usage of Web-based GIS is limited to data sharing among government agencies and data purchasing by the private sector. Although these facilities are open for public usage, most Malaysians prefer to use Google Map for their travelling purposes (Seong, 2009; Sia, 2009; Sivanandam, 2009; Rosilawati Zainol, 2010).

However, the use of this application for crime control by the local community has yet to be explored by researchers. Providing a specific Web-based GIS application system for specific neighbourhood is essential in order to provide more system control by the community. This system will not only allow users to view information on crime pattern in their neighbourhood but also to perform analysis on the Web. In addition, users will also be allowed to submit new information on crime incidents occurred in their area to the system administrator.

SWOT Analysis of Web-based GIS Application
SWOT analysis has identified the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of web-based GIS system features according to community crime monitoring technique. Table 1 shows the outcome of the analysis.

Table 1 SWOT Analysis of Web-based GIS Application
Although one of the weaknesses of the system involves users’ comprehension, it is easily overcome by providing user manual on the site. The interface of the system can be customised to enhance users’ understanding. The administrator should be able to overcome the constraints by working together with the local police force. Thus, his source of information is not just the local community but also the police. This will result in abundance of information.

Subang Jaya Community
Between 1991 and 2000, Subang Jaya was the fastest growing community in the Petaling district with an increase of almost 20% in ten years. According to the Draft Local Plan for Subang Jaya (2009), the population of Subang Jaya is approximately 152,068 and the population density is 60.5 people/hectare. In terms of ethnic composition, the community is made up of 42 percent Malay, 41 percent Chinese and 17 percent Indians and others.

Just like any other suburban community, Subang Jaya is plagued by many problems associated with rapid urbanisation, such as traffic and crime. In addition, by being strategically located within crossings of expressways, Subang Jaya has faced extreme pressures of development that has threatened the community’s quality of life. A group of residents in USJ 2 formed an informal residents’ association in 1991, known as USJ Residents Association. Meetings were held at the chairman’s residence to address and tackle the various issues faced by the residents. The association took a step further when it was legally registered as an association with the Registrar of Societies in 1993. The association, to date, is actively working on big community issues, especially in trying to garner support from the residents in challenging local authority’s planning decisions.

Apart from the residents’ association, the community is also home to many local initiatives. In 1999, 19 strong neighborhood watch committees were formed, whereby each committee was put in charge of organising night patrols. There were 330 volunteer patrollers who walked the streets with torches, whistles, batons and long sticks (Postill, 2006). Postill (2006) describes these patrolling initiatives as unique as they take place in a fast-moving metropolitan economy. These initiatives however ceased completely in 2004.

E-community initiatives in Subang Jaya
Subang Jaya has many exemplary e-community initiatives. In the year 1999, Subang Jaya was selected by MIMOS, the corporatised government agency then in charge of Malaysia’s ICT policy making, to be transformed into a “smart township” by 2005 (Postill, 2006). The aim of the project was to develop Subang Jaya community to a knowledge-based community that would improve the quality of life of the residents in a sustainable manner. Among the objectives of the project were “increasing ICT awareness among the residents, facilitating Internet access, improving Internet and other ICT skills, creating a socially cohesive community” (Postill, 2006) and evolving “good, effective, accountable, transparent, caring governance framework” (Ng in Postill, 2004). All these objectives were seen in line with the objective of Local Agenda 21, which puts central emphasis on transparency and better delivery services of the local authorities.

The project initially injected some excitement among the government agencies and residents’ associations which comprised of some neighbourhood activists and interested individuals. However, due to some internal conflict, the project SJ2005 was shelved due to the conflict of interest among several government agencies (Postill, 2004).

This initial setback however did not deter the Subang Jaya community to pursue their commitment in adopting ICT in their lifestyles. Until today, Subang Jaya residents are proud to have quite a number of community portals which have played major roles in fostering better communication not only among the residents but the portals have also helped the residents in bridging communication barriers between them and the government.

SJ Alert is an initiative created by the residents of USJ and Subang Jaya to combat crime (Figure 1). It started in 2006 as Orchi’s Alert System1, when a group of residents suggested the idea of a mass SMS to disseminate information about crime activities in the neighbourhood. The system proved to be working when the police managed to nab a gang of robbers known as the “Camry gang,” based solely on the information relayed through the mass SMS. Realising the benefit of this system, the residents came together to start the SJ Alert SMS System on 1 October 2006 and SJ Alert EMS on 15 August 2008. The SJ Alert Web Forum was started on 1st September 2008 (SJ Alert, 2011).

Figure 1: The SJ Alert web page
Crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS application
According to Wilson (2009), GIS plays a major role in identifying boundaries of neighbourhood and making them useful units of geographical space. GIS has further enhanced users’ understanding in the dynamics of problems within, between and across neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, GIS also provides accurate appropriate scale representation of location and space. By collaborating e-communities, crime prevention strategies and benefits of using web-based GIS application, a community crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS application should be implemented in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

In view of crime being experienced by communities, a system should be initiated to assist local authorities and police to design crime prevention plan. There is a need to produce a user-friendly crime monitoring system using web-based GIS because the key to reducing crime lies in having several organisations working together in a partnership. Crime prevention partnership should include law enforcement agencies, local authorities, community, businesses and NGOs. Efforts by all the partners need to be coordinated so that the resources and skills of all relevant role-players can contribute towards curbing and reducing crime.

The key to successful crime prevention is planning. A community’s problems should be approached logically and systematically. Therefore, crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS can help reduce crime in an area and also empower community neighbourhood watch. It is a framework for crime prevention planning and activities to make neighbourhoods safer. It can prevent crime and violence and reduce fear of crime because this tool will bring together different role-players involved in crime prevention, would bring together role-players involved in crime prevention and can coordinate and manage crime prevention initiatives.

Crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS can help law enforcement agencies in the following ways:

  • Providing research, technical guidance, and training
  • Advising local government on developing crime prevention programmes
  • Mobilise community-based campaigns and activities and communicate these to the community.

By setting up a crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS, direct feedback of problems and issues faced by police agencies and community can be shared and conflicting agendas can be minimised. The benefits of police-community crime management are that community leaders actively identify crime concern issues in their neighbourhood and by doing so they will help in the process of eliminating or reducing crime in the neighbourhood. The police-community partnership is useful to the police agencies because it is easier to solicit community participation to prevent crime from happening rather than assuming sole responsibility to it. The community can share equal responsibilities for the success or failure of crime prevention strategies/programmes. Although the police agencies remain at the forefront in the battle against crime, they can no longer be solely accountable for community safety, security and quality of life. A community-based approach can result in an effective crime prevention model. The crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS can assist them and it must be developed with appropriate strategies, proper allocation of resources and mobilisation of the community. By using crime monitoring system using Web-based GIS, we would be able to set up partners, interact with partners and assist local governments to undertake crime audit and strategy development processes, established network, and maintain a reporting system.

Collaboration between community, local authorities and the police force will definitely create a safe living environment in any neighbourhood. It is hoped that with the availability of this service, criminals will be deterred from committing crimes in areas that are monitored by this service.


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