OSKALOOSA – Do you ever wish you knew more about the types of crimes happening around Oskaloosa? Police Chief Ben Boeke is two steps ahead of you with Spot Crime.
SpotCrime is a free website that maps data on incidents of various crimes based on your location or the address of a location you enter. Chief Boeke’s main goal for using SpotCrime is transparency about what’s going on in Oskaloosa.
“So, I’m from Illinois and we did a lot of crime reporting. We tried to be as transparent as we could out there, then I got here and I started looking, ‘well there’s not much information on what’s going on,’” he said. “I like to be transparent about what’s going on, so we started talking and looking at some different companies and SpotCrime got a hold of me and they’re like, ‘hey, have you thought about doing this?’”
Once Boeke got more details about the site and found that it’s free to use for the department and the community, he took the information to the city council and they approved it.
“It had to go through city council just to get approved and get a heads up that, ‘hey, this is what I want to do. Are you okay with this,” he said. “City Council said ‘absolutely, let’s put that out there,’ because they can follow it, they can see what’s going on in their wards and if people are complaining to them about issues they can look them up on spot crime.”
The data used to update SpotCrime maps comes from the Oskaloosa Police Department. One thing to keep in mind is that Oskaloosa is a smaller city and officers can’t update the site every time something happens.
Instead, Community Service Officer Brandon Dizon sends new data to SpotCrime around the beginning of each week and it’s then added to the map.
“Brandon [will] go through, get everything formatted the way it needs to be and just fire it up. I don’t even look at it,” Boeke said. “So, if people are worried about us editing things out, I don’t even see what goes out. We’ve already set up the template for it, there’s a certain number of things that we don’t report because we can’t. Sex crime and domestic violence stuff we don’t report, but other than that, everything gets reported.”
SpotCrime shows the actual address of where incidents happen and to protect the identity of victims and those affected, domestic violence and sex crimes are not reported on SpotCrime.
Oskaloosa has been using SpotCrime for almost a year now and it’s even helped the police department to solve a few burglaries using the site so Chief Boeke sees SpotCrime as a beneficial tool for everybody.
“It’s beneficial all the way around. It just, it just opens the doors because people hear rumors, they see Facebook posts, but they never know what’s really going on and this gives them an opportunity to look at what’s really going on,” he said. “If they’re really curious about if something happened in their neighborhood it gives them the case number and they can come follow up with us and let us know if they’re seeing something else going on that maybe hasn’t been reported.”
City Manager Micheal Schrock agreed that SpotCrime is beneficial for the community and our officers.
“I think it’s a good tool and it adds value not only for the public but also our officers and the command staff within the police department,” Schrock said. “We like the idea of having transparency so that people can review what’s going on within the community. And again, it serves as a great tool for our staff to try to identify any trends that might exist within the community when it comes to crimes that are reported on that system.”
Although SpotCrime gives the option to submit tips, Chief Boeke strongly prefers that tips are called in directly to the police department or they can be messaged on Facebook.
“We would prefer they call us directly because we’re not big enough that we need SpotCrime to tell us and we don’t have Crime Stoppers here,” he said. “I get messages through Facebook all the time directly to our page like, ‘hey this is what’s going on, can you keep it anonymous’, of course I can and we’ll go add that.”