Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 09:16 UK

Wiki pinpoints Brazilian crime

By Helen Clegg
BBC, Brazil

Police in Sao Paulo
Some Brazilians have little trust in the police in the country

A few weeks ago while walking in a street in the Ipanema neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro I became another victim of crime in the city after being robbed.

Like many in the city, I was hesitant about contacting the police. For some there is a feeling that there is little point; for others a general distrust of them.

But this under-reporting of crime is one of the motivations behind a new interactive website called Wikicrimes, created by Professor Vasco Furtado from the University of Fortaleza in northern Brazil.

"The idea is very simple; when people are robbed it's quite common for them to tell other people," he tells me.

"With wikicrimes this information will be available globally."

Police response

As a recent victim of crime myself, I decided to test out the site.

I am given a map of Brazil, and can zoom in to where I was robbed.

After finding the street, I put a marker on it.

Cocaine found in UK after being sent in parcel from Brazil
If we develop a project with Wikicrimes, we can look at things like domestic violence or information on drug trafficking
Denis Mizne, Sou de Paz

I then fill in a series of question boxes regarding things like whether the person was armed and whether anyone else can confirm the crime happened.

"The other principal reason behind the creation of the site is the unavailability of police crime data to the public," says Professor Furtado.

"We have a problem in Brazil, in that crime data is a monopoly of the police. There are a lot of debate if there is a manipulation or not of the data."

He adds that he sent a message to all the police departments in Brazil explaining about the project and asking if they wanted to include their data on the site.

So far, he has received no positive responses.

But Antenor Martins of Rio's Civil Police Department, who investigates crime on the internet, says the police have their reasons for not revealing data.

"We are very worried about revealing police data which may restrict the work of the police," he explains.

"Also we don't want a feeling of insecurity for the people - they don't deserve that here or anywhere else in the world."

And not all people want a crime profile or map of an area.

Another victim, 24-year-old Melissa from Sao Paulo, says that she feels profiling areas like this risks discriminating the people from those areas.

"There's also good people there," she says.

"Or they are very poor, and that's why I was robbed. I don't think it's a very good idea."

Big initiative

And officer Antenor Junior of Rio's Civil Police department is sceptical about the validity of the information people put into Wikicrimes.

"The principal problem is the lack of someone to check that the information is true," he says.

Wikicrimes website
Wikicrimes pinpoints crime hotspots in the country

"When people walk into a police station, you sign an incident report. If you give information which isn't true you have to respond to charges of giving false evidence."

But other organisations have welcomed Wikicrimes - such as the Sao Paulo-based non-governmental organisation Sou de Paz, which works to reduce violence in Brazil.

"If we develop a project with Wikicrimes, we can look at things like domestic violence or information on drug trafficking - things that affect communities but that people don't report either because of shame or fear," says Sou de Paz's Denis Mizne.

"If you can get access to this information or publicise it together with Wikicrimes, it could help in areas that suffer most from violent crime."

Meanwhile Professor Furtado stresses that at this early stage his main aim is getting public participation and interest in the site.

"I think this will be the first big initiative for doing this in Brazil," he says.

"In terms of crime it would be nice if this would show that its necessary to publish the crime data that we have in law authorities and institutions.

"If this is a success, I am sure that all the crime data will be available for people, because they will realise there is no way that the authorities can keep it all to themselves."




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