The has made several big changes this week to make it easier for the public to find out about crimes, in various neighborhoods and citywide, with an online blotter and a new crime mapping program that's open to all.
There's also a brand new Facebook page, and a regular social meet-up, called , the first of which took place Monday.
Police Chief Mike McQuiston said the initiatives are new manifestations of the transparency and open communications that "have been our hallmarks" since he became chief in 2006. Technology has offered a new range of tools with which to approach information sharing.
"The way we communicate is changing. Everyone should know that," said McQuiston. "So we need to take steps to move in that direction."
Previously the only way to find out from police about crime incidents involved visiting the station and looking at two black binders: one that listed reports and another that listed arrests. Now, it's all online in PDF form. [Albany Patch plans to post these reports, or some version of them, regularly.]
Perhaps more exciting for community members may be new crime mapping capabilities via crimereports.com. Users can input an address to find basic information about crimes around town. There are ways to sort by date and type of crime. El Cerrito takes part in the system as well, which can provide a more regional look at incidents.
Eventually, there may also be a more refined Albany neighborhood search option too, McQuiston said.
"You've got the map and it updates every day," he said. "The public is getting information that's updated directly from our database."
There are some crimes that initially won't be included on the map, such as sex crimes and domestic disputes, due to increased privacy concerns, he said. But more than 30 types of crimes are searchable, from thefts and robberies to traffic incidents such as DUIs.
"The concern is that members of the community will look at this and suddenly panic because they're going to see that crime is occurring in Albany," he said. "You may look at the map and think it looks like the city is just in chaos. It's not true."
In fact, crime reports overall have dropped for the fourth year running, McQuiston said.
A more detailed back end of the crime mapping software will allow all members of the Police Department to get a better sense of trends, focus on problem areas and potentially refine their approach to investigations, said the chief.
The department's brand new Facebook page will be a place where people can see what the police have been working on, learn more about neighborhood watch and disaster preparedness, and communicate with the department.
One of the department's goals from the city was to take steps toward better crime analysis and mapping, McQuiston said, adding that these efforts fit into that framework.
But, of course, nothing beats plain old-fashioned face time, and that's where Coffee with the Cops comes in. The Police Department plans to hold quarterly meetings with the public that are casual and aimed at making connections.
Officer Pete O'Connor suggested the idea, and he was one of four members of the Police Department on hand Monday morning to field questions on everything from crime mapping and cell towers to the location of the YMCA and directions to the nearest dog park.
"I think people really appreciated the forum to simply walk up and talk, and ask about anything," McQuiston said. "What we find is we can either wait for something to happen that involves a police response or we can try to create these opportunities for interaction."
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