TAMPA — Curious about the sirens you heard? Want to know what's going on down the street?
Tampa residents can now track crime in their neighborhoods with an interactive map available through the police department's website.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office launched a similar tool last year. Now the city has one, managed by a company called RAIDS Online.
It combines Tampa police reports with Google Maps, and it was free, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
"We wanted something that is easy for the public to use," she said. "The more information they have, the more equipped they are to help us solve crimes."
The public can access the site by visiting TampaGov.net/police and searching by address to find what's happening in their neighborhoods. Little dots mark reports of crimes such as assault or burglary, and clicking on the dots brings up more information.
Visitors also can click a link to leave a tip about a particular call.
Victim names are not included, and addresses are generalized by block for privacy reasons. Sexual batteries are not included in the interactive map — an extra precaution to ensure those victims' anonymity, Davis said.
Information is entered about 24 hours after police get the call. Still, details could change as police gather more information, Davis said. The website will be updated, but it could take a couple of days for the most accurate information to be available.
"It shouldn't be used as 100 percent fact," Davis said. "It's a guide for people to see what's going on in their neighborhood."
Police have been talking about launching this site for about six months, Davis said. The department previously had a map on the city's website that wasn't very user-friendly.
Police believe more people will use this new version, and they hope it will help residents notice crime trends that could lead to crime prevention.
"If they see there's been three burglaries in their area, they may start looking out for people they don't know," Davis said. "Our goal is to get the community as involved in the police department as possible."
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office's version has been useful to Neighborhood Watch groups, said Ken Atkison, an officer in the Hillsborough County Neighborhood Watch Association.
Gus Dominguez, 68, has looked up data for his Carrollwood neighborhood once a month since October. He saves the entire month's data and emails it to the approximately 60 people in his Neighborhood Watch group.
Several months ago, he noticed there had been a spike in car burglaries.
"We used that as an opportunity to alert people to close their car and don't leave anything on the car to tempt people," Dominguez said. "It's very helpful."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.