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Merced police unveil online crime mapping service

Merced residents aiming to keep tabs on local crime now have another arrow in their information quiver.

The Merced Police Department has signed on to CrimeMapping.com, an online service that allows residents to view calls that officers responded to in their neighborhood. The service, provided by a company called The Omega Group, uses a map with color-coded icons to help residents identify police calls citywide.

Residents aren't charged a fee for using the service, which can be accessed at www.crimemapping.com. Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade introduced the service during a press conference Wednesday. Andrade said the service will help residents view crime activity near their home, work and their children's school. "We really hope citizens will take advantage of this," Andrade said. "This will give them an opportunity to see what absolutely is going on in their area."

Merced police are the second agency in the county to sign onto an online crime-tracking service. Atwater police joined a similar service, CrimeReports.com, earlier this year.

For Merced police, the service does come with a price. Although the first year will be provided free of charge, the department will pay $1,200 a year for the next two years. The department will pay for the service with federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds.

After three years, the department will have to find another funding source for the service, according to Lance Eber, the department's crime analyst.

The service includes 15 crime categories, ranging from homicide to disturbing the peace. The data will be uploaded once a day and stored for 90 days. Users can sign up for e-mail alerts to inform them of calls police responded to within a mile of their home, work or other locations. "A citizen can log into the website, sign up for crime alerts, enter an address of their house, work or their children's school, and on a daily basis they'll receive an e-mail of any crime that happened within a designated radius," Eber said.

Users should also be mindful the site only reports calls officers responded to, and not every police call is documented as an actual crime.

Andrade said this year the department received around 100 public requests for crime information. In addition, the department sometimes receives calls from parents of UC Merced students who are moving to the area. They want to know which neighborhoods are secure. He said the site will help them and anyone else who's moving to the area. "This gives them an opportunity to make the decision they feel is safe," Andrade said.

The site also includes trend reports and pie charts indicating the volume of police calls in any particular area.

Merced police are one of 54 law enforcement agencies in the state and 125 nationwide to use the service. Before using the service, Merced police updated their own website with crime information on a weekly basis.

For an instruction manual on how to use the service, go to http://www.cityofmerced.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=9286

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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