LARGO — Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri has a message for neighborhood crime watchers, real estate agents and concerned citizens constantly calling the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for updated local crime statistics: Now you can do it yourself.
The Sheriff's Office and the county's Business Technology Services unveiled a new website Monday that uses Google Maps technology to help county residents track crime in their neighborhood. The website, www.pinellascounty.org/crimeviewer, allows users to view an interactive map of reported crimes in their neighborhood and filter the results by date, location or type of crime.
"It'll be very beneficial to citizens who are interested on a current, need-to-know basis," Gualtieri said. "It will tell them what's happening in their back yards."
Nine local police departments are collaborating with the Sheriff's Office to create a comprehensive map that stretches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. All the departments are expected to update the Crime Viewer's database daily.
The interface should be easy to use for anyone familiar with searching for locations on Google. The map can be zoomed in or out, dragged, nudged or magnified.
After entering an address or ZIP code, dozens of iridescent icons appear, each indicating an occurrence of crime in the past year. Fuchsia pentagons are aggravated battery. A salmon-colored diamond represents a reported burglary in a vehicle.
The site was designed to be intuitive, said Nancy Sherman of Business Technology Services, but there's also a 21-page manual for anyone who needs the extra help.
Sherman said she expects an accompanying Crime Viewer e-mail notification system to be in place by summer's end. The Crime Viewer also is available to users on their smart phones.
Gualtieri predicted Crime Viewer will save the county a significant chunk of change; now that citizens can search crime data for themselves, existing staff in the Sheriff's Office won't need to dedicate time to search for, compile and print crime reports for private citizens.
"In these budget times, we're looking to reduce our staff through the use of technology," Gualtieri said. He said he does not yet have an estimate of how much money the Crime Viewer will save the Sheriff's Office.
And, according to Capt. Jim Main, the county created the website on the cheap. Instead of using an out-of-the-box software that would cost each participating department $99 to $199 per month in subscription fees, the county's Business Technology Services division created Crime Viewer from scratch for the free use of all involved.
That also means Sheriff's Office administrators could tailor the website to function exactly as they pleased. For example, crime occurrences are listed by the block only, not by the building address, in order to protect the privacy of victims who report the crimes themselves.
Of course, that doesn't apply to sex offenders registered in Pinellas County. Type in an address and click the checkbox next to "View Sex Offenders," and the names, photographs and addresses of all registered sex offenders and sexual predators in the area appear in pop-up boxes.
Gualtieri said he thinks the website will help county residents keep themselves safe. If a user logs on and notices a recent surge in reports of a prowler in the area, he will be more likely to lock his doors and windows.
"I think that being aware of what's happening in the area," Gualtieri said, "is always a good thing to help us prevent crime."