Can E-Government Increase Crime?

Fairfax County is experiencing what amounts to a crime wave for this generally affluent Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. But is it an actual ...
by | August 28, 2008

Fairfax County is experiencing what amounts to a crime wave for this generally affluent Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. But is it an actual crime wave or a virtual one?

After dropping for five straight years to its lowest point in 2006, the number of serious crimes in the country jumped 6 percent in 2007, driven by an 8.9 percent increase in larcenies, the Washington Post reported in June. The trend is continuing in 2008, with a 12 percent increase during the first six months of the year. And again larcenies seem to be the main culprit, accounting for 7,450 of the 9,300 serious crimes through June -- or about 1,000 more than in the same period last year. (Here's the country's summary of the data.)

One reason for the spike is the number of Global Positioning System devices and other portable electronics that are being swiped from cars, the Post reported. But county police also offer another explanation for the increases: their Web site has made it easier for people to report crimes online, as well as by phone.

"We've been doing more marketing in terms of getting people to report crime," Lt. Jennifer Lescallett told the newspaper. "In the last year, we've really been pushing that more."

Indeed, a fact sheet (Microsoft Word document) explaining how to use the recently upgraded Citizen Reporting System, or CRS, has been reprinted in neighborhood newsletters and on community Web pages -- providing a good template for how to spread the word about improvements to local e-government services.

Local leaders could easily misread a story like Fairfax County's as an argument against providing a system like this: Make it easier to report crimes and the crime rate goes up, providing statistical fodder for negative headlines, public criticism and perhaps political attack. Sign me up. But hopefully officials in Fairfax -- and elsewhere -- won't be tempted to shoot the messenger, even if the country's more convenient reporting system really turns out to be responsible for the increasing crime reports.

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