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Could mapping cop activity help criminals?

Screenshot of Surrey Police mobile app
Screenshot of Surrey Police mobile appMultizone Limited

If you were a criminal, wouldn't you want to know exactly where the long arm of the law is at any given time? Well, there's an app for that — and it's been developed by law enforcement.

Serving up locations on a silver platter, i.e. an interactive map and Twitter feed that runs down police responses and actions, is deemed by the developers of the app as a good thing to let the fine folks of Runnymeade, Surrey (in England) know they're being protected by their men and women in blue.

The Surrey Police app, available for free on iTunes, gives locals live activities of the Surrey Police Safer Neighborhood Teams, as well as local and county police news. It will soon be available on the Android Market and to BlackBerry users.

Policing Minister Nick Herbert told The Independent, "This new app not only gives residents in Surrey the ability to view what crimes are happening on their streets in a convenient format, but crucially provides them with live updates on where and how their local neighborhood police teams are taking action to tackle."

And that, some say, is precisely the problem. 

The one comment on the iTunes page reflects the flip side of such an app's potential:

Yes this app will give people a sense of security, but it will also give the wrong people a tool of evasion. I hope the policemans' locations are at least delayed by a few minutes so a crook with an iPhone doesn't think, "hey, he's turning south, so I'll go north". I know you have probably invested a significant amount of money in developing this app, but it deeply concerns me that you are publicly disclosing the location of the people who are supposed to be protecting us.Thank you.

Gizmodo also put the app under the category of "Bad Ideas" and wrote, "But come on, people! Has no one seen any crime movie ever? This seems like it will be of limited-if-any use to the public at large, and an unbelievable boon to the unsavory folk of Surrey.

The service is only available to a portion of the county for the time being, but officials are hoping to take it nationwide some time soon, putting one more goodie in future @!$%# rioters' bag of tricks."

While there are a good deal of apps out there that give the public crime mapping, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of showing live police activities, although there are several police scanner mobile apps, which have come under fire for the same reasons the Surrey Police app faces criticism.

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