Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Virtual Crime Wave

Case closed: e-government increases crime. At least that's what seems to be going on here in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The affluent D.C. suburb where I live has seen significant jumps in the numbers of serious crimes reported in recent years. But local police attribute the increase at least in part to their efforts to promote an upgraded system that makes it easier for victims to report some crimes online and by phone.

This kind of marketing success could easily turn into a twisted argument against making government services more convenient and accessible online, as I mentioned in a longer look at this story over on GOVERNING's blog:

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....

I've already heard an example of such thinking at a GOVERNING technology conference in Seattle a few months ago, during a daylong workshop on municipal 3-1-1 telephone lines. One official from a medium-sized northeastern city lamented that providing 3-1-1 was only increasing demands and expectations for government services in his community -- from filling potholes to disposing of roadkill. "If we miss one dead dog we get creamed," the official said.

Fairfax, on the other hand, takes great pride in its online offerings. Its e-government efforts have been ranked among the best in the country by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties in their annual Digital Counties Survey. Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax board of supervisors, once said that recognition was "an excellent reminder of how technology can connect residents and their local government." So I'll be watching to see how he and other officials respond if the crime data becomes an issue in a local congressional race, in which Connolly is a candidate.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I would agree that Fairfax system on virtual crime seems to be working, it was sound bite and drug free the last time I was there in 2005, and other parts of Virginia were not, like Dulles Int. airport.