Thursday, 24 February 2022 17:00

Open Data and Crime Prevention: the Italian case

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As reported by Prof. Battistelli in 20131 , "from the 80s of the twentieth century a significant change in the concept of safety has taken place. The traditional concept of public safety has turned into the more specific notion of urban security. However, the question arises as to whether the new definition can be considered a replacement for the previous one: it certainly constitutes a radical extension. In itself, in fact, urban security includes the 'necessary' characteristics of public safety but, at the same time, it includes more specific characteristics". 

The paradigm of urban security promises to pursue the development of the opportunities and the rights of most of the people that are part of it (in some cases even non-native). Urban security includes not only the protection of a society from threats, but also the satisfaction of its most advanced needs, extending the realisation of this objective to both private and public agencies (Battistelli 2013). Private agencies, consequently, seek to settle themselves into a new area of society with the aim of privately performing protection and security functions while maintaining a very strong link with public authorities (e.g., law enforcement, ministries).

In this regard, Italy has always maintained a prudential attitude towards the sharing of any data on crime, making it the exclusive prerogative of the Public Security Authorities. Centro Elaborazione Dati Interforze (CED)2 is part of this framework. Instituted by Article 8 of Law /1/4/1981, no. 121 for the purpose of coordinating the collection, classification, analysis, and evaluation of information on the protection of law and order, public security and the prevention and repression of crime (Art. 1, para 1, Legislative Decree 18/5/2018, no. 51), it was subsequently incorporated in 2001 within the new Sistema Di Indagine (SDI)3 platform. The latter is, to all intents and purposes, the largest public database (on crime, offences, and urban decay) in Italy to date.

The SDI platform is constantly enriched with a great deal of data relating to unlawful episodes, potential offenders, subjects, persons, property and much more. In other words, 'quantitative' information is integrated (e.g. geographical distribution of criminal events, episodes of urban decay and offences) with 'qualitative' information4.  

Within this enormous database (SDI) also the geo-localized5 data on episodes of crime, generated by the tabularization of the complaints received by the competent authorities, are naturally conveyed. This geo-referenced collection has a specific objective: to put the Police Forces in the condition of being able to carry out urban risk analyses finalized to the understanding of the principal critical areas on which to activate mitigating/contrasting/preventive actions. Such geo-localized data, if rendered devoid of any sensitive information, could have an undoubted value also for Associations, Third Sector Organisations, Foundations, private citizens, and companies, as part of the social fabric.

This is in line with the United Nations (2018)6 report on the urbanization processes that the world, especially the western world, will face by 2050. In fact, it is expected that 68% of the world's population will live in urban-metropolitan contexts, increasing the vertical and horizontal growth of our cities. Such densification will be accompanied by an unequally rapid increase in the number of the Police Forces involved in the control of the above-mentioned urban spaces. This gap will inevitably imply an increasing assumption of responsibility by all the stakeholders (public and private) of our society, who will become an integral part of the process in the field of 'participatory urban security'. In other words, each of us will be called upon to contribute so that cities can maintain adequate levels of safety, inclusion, and balance.

It is within this framework that one of the greatest challenges of the future will be played out, and in order not to lose it, it will be essential to focus on a radical change in the area of 'open data' on crime and urban decay. In fact, if this change doesn’t happen, how could public/private stakeholders identify streets or urban micro-areas where there may be 'pockets' of crime on which it is essential to intervene with operations of contrast, mitigation, and risk prevention? It would not be possible, or at least it would be extremely complex.

The idea of a synergy between the police, citizens, businesses, and any other stakeholder (part of the social structure) can concretely lead to tangible and measurable benefits. In these countries, in fact, the concept of 'open data' in the field of security (and not only) was legitimised years ago, making our country, unfortunately, still rather behind the standards across the border. For example, although updated in 2017, the Open Data Barometer7 relegated Italy to a less than optimal position in terms of open data in Europe (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1 - Data accessibility in Italy by category (year 2017) - comparison with UK

Comparing Italy to the UK for example, two countries that could be defined - on some level - at the extremes of the same spectrum, it emerges that in the field of crime data-transparency Italy presents an overall score (on a scale ranging from 0 to 100) of 40.00 against the UK's 90.00, here are some more specific numbers (see fig. 2):

  • Open data on crime and decay: UK (90.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: UK (100.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 2 - Comparison of open data between the UK and Italy (year 2017) - topic 'Crime Statistics'

In addition, there is a government platform called 'Open Data - Police UK8', through which any citizen/entity in the world can freely download all geo-localised crime data up to date (see figure 3).

Fig. 3 - Government platform 'Open Data - Police UK'

Continuing the comparison on an European level, Italy, compared to Germany, presents an overall score of 40.00 vs. 80.00, below some more specific numbers (see fig. 4):

  • Open data on crime and degradation: Germany (80.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: Germany (100.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 4 - Open data comparison between Germany and Italy (year 2017)


Again, Italy, compared to France, has an overall score of 40.00 versus 95.00, here are some more specific numbers (see fig. 5):

  • Open data on Offences and Degradation: France (95.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: France (70.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 5 - Open data comparison between France and Italy (year 2017)

In light of the above, a question arises: what kind of consequences can this difference generate directly, or indirectly?

The lack of accessible geo-localised data on urban crime means that many intervention policies (both private and public) are not yet data-driven on this issue but rely only and exclusively on qualitative variables (equally important but insufficient if not integrated with numerical-quantitative ones).

On the other hand, how could a Public Administration, a Foundation, an Association or even a group of aware and pro-active citizens plan an urban requalification intervention if the (geo-localised) data on episodes of crime and degradation are not accessible? Everything becomes extremely more complex and potentially ineffective, hence the need to overturn the paradigm of participatory urban security.

This change does not presuppose, obviously, an access to the entire data bank of the SDI, insofar as it is inapplicable, dangerous and, above all, ethically unjust (given the high presence of sensitive data and material). It is rather intended to mean the possibility for private citizens, companies, public administrations and all the organisations of the Third sector, to access only the geo-localized data (deprived of any sensitive information) on criminality and urban decay. Below is an example of 'information fields' that - although not affecting sensitive/personal data - could make a given crime/degradation event usable in urban risk analysis:

  • Event category (e.g., robbery, theft, violent crime, counterfeiting, drug dealing, etc.)
  • Sub-category of event (e.g., Commercial Robbery, Residential Theft, etc.)
  • Date of event (e.g., 01/01/2021)
  • Time of the event (e.g., between 8:00 and 12:00)
  • Address (e.g., Via Rossi 1, 00000, Rome)
  • Latitude and Longitude (fundamental for the geo-localization of the event)

Of course, along with a hypothetical greater sharing of data on crime and urban decay by the Public Safety Authorities, it is necessary to encourage an increasingly substantial activism on the part of citizens. The latter, in fact, are called upon to contribute with information and data which, unfortunately, are often not available to Law Enforcement Agencies.

In this regard, back in 20049, Dr Maurizio Fiasco - through an interesting article published on the State Police website - quoted "The average number of reported cases is 34% and is partly influenced by the fact that attempted crimes don’t get reported (only one in four is followed by a report to the authorities). While it may seem obvious that citizens report almost all car thefts (94%), the high percentage of robberies that remain unreported is cause for reflection: 50.4% of those committed and 68.9% of those attempted. Why such a low tendency? The hypotheses are based on the balance between the costs and benefits of contacting the police and the seriousness of the consequences of the crime. It is also influenced by whether contact between the perpetrator and the victim has taken place or not. A burglary committed while the victim is absent from home has different emotional repercussions from a robbery during which the offended party has run into the aggressor. In other words, in case of events affecting one individual, such as assaults and robberies, the most frequent motivation for reporting is to inform the police (43.2% if they met the offender and 35% if they didn’t) or to prevent the perpetrator from repeating the crime (50.3% if they met the offender and 17.3% if they didn’t). On the other hand, these motivations were scarcely reported for pickpocketing and theft of personal belongings.

This reflection, although outdated, is still deeply relevant considering what was pointed out in the ISTAT (Italian National Statistical Institute)10 year-end report 2020, that "The data concerning the police force survey do not represent a complete picture of crime". This aspect is, in some ways, extremely invalidating as it could prevent the Public Safety Authorities from implementing effective crime fighting and containment measures. However, even though the number of reports is still relatively low today (especially for certain types of crime), it must be said that citizens have been able to build a dense network of platforms, especially digital ones, capable of collecting very significant amounts of data on crime/degradation. In other words, it could be said that blogs/forums/social networks/security websites have become the digital noticeboard where citizens tend to crystallise the results of their HUMINT11 activities.

Therefore, it is evident that citizens are very willing to 'share information for the protection of common/public spaces', but it is also necessary to put them in a position where they can convey the same data to the competent authorities. Training, information, and dissemination activities can be an excellent tool to make citizens increasingly aware of the need to systematise the data/reports they collect in order to share them with the police, as well as to increasingly digitalise the reporting procedures. In this sense, the Mine Crime project that we coordinated aims to harmonise the collection of data reported through multiple digital platforms, systematising them in a single database and transforming them into risk indices to support mitigation activities by companies, law enforcement agencies, public stakeholders, and citizens.

In conclusion, it is only through the overall sharing of data, information, and useful materials on urban security that the public, by integrating with the private sector (an essential component of modern society), will be able to face the great challenges that the 'security of the near future' will inexorably pose to us. We have excellent examples of countries that could serve as models of 'good practices'. There is nothing left to do but start now.


Giacomo Salvanelli - Mine Crime CEO






[4] Criminal proceedings, secret or classified - Art. 144 and 329 - and, therefore, accessible only to Officials of the Judicial Police assigned to the "Services" of the Judicial Police provided for by Art. 56, Code of Criminal Procedure, to the D.I.A., to the Central Direction for the anti-drug services and to the central Offices of the State Police or of the Carabinieri deputized to fight terrorism.

[5] Geolocation: identification of the geographic position of people, events, vehicles or objects that are stationary or moving








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