For many people, safety is among the top determinants of the neighborhood in which they choose to buy. However, you can’t always tell if a neighborhood is safe just by looking at it. This is especially true in cities where urban redevelopment is taking place or where population growth has necessitated new development in formerly undesirable locations. In short, a street might look beautiful and lively, but it may be unsafe to leave your car street-parked overnight.
For fix-and-flippers, rental property owners, and primary homebuyers alike, it’s extremely helpful to get real data on crime in a neighborhood before touring a property. And several apps and websites provide it -- using publicly available police records combined with geolocation tech to show exactly where crimes are happening, as well as what types of crime. Use these tools to learn more about a neighborhood before making an appointment to tour a property.
Available as a website or an app, this free service shows all types of crime incidents, including unspecified arrests, pinpointed to the neighborhood level. It only shows each incident as an icon specifying what type (i.e., handcuffs for a general arrest) and doesn’t provide deeper information, so some things do not immediately make sense. As part of doing due diligence on a neighborhood, you may still need to ask an informed local why there’s a high number of certain crime incidents in a neighborhood. Also, the SpotCrime app isn’t integrated into any home-listing platforms, so you have to run it separately but in parallel if you’re scouting neighborhoods.
Finally, it doesn’t always update new crimes right away, although this doesn’t necessarily matter. For example, if a neighborhood had 30 muggings last year, you don’t need to see 10 new ones in the past month to make a decision on its suitability.
Crime and Place
More than just a clever name, this app offers mobile crime mapping for travelers or people who may be looking for a permanent location. Its distinctive feature is the "Crime Compass," a dynamic view of the user’s location that shows nearby crime hotspots, and it even provides alerts via push notifications when a user enters a high-crime area. It can be overlaid onto a GPS route using its "radar sweep" function, so you can see whether traveling there from a starting location will take you through a dangerous area. This is naturally useful for homebuyers because it will indicate if you'll need to pass through high-crime areas to get to school, work, etc.
Crime and Place is much more ambitious in its functionality than others, and users tend to complain about imperfect functionality (especially on the notifications), while still saying it’s a highly useful tool that they use often. Also worth noting: The developer is responsive to customer feedback and seems to be actively working to create a better user experience.
This site focuses only on identifying where sex offenders live. Because sex offenders are required to register, they’re the easiest to locate and track, so this site also offers a free email service that notifies people when a sex offender moves into or leaves their neighborhood.
Family Watchdog’s UI is clunky, especially the map function. But it’s also fascinating, in a scary way. The free service shows addresses, photos, and names of sex offenders residing in a certain zip code. Paid subscription unlocks even more details. More than likely, if you’re looking up a city neighborhood, you’ll discover that yes, sex offenders do live in the neighborhood, and a large percentage of them are "unmappable," meaning that even if a community or complex looks free of them, you can’t be entirely sure.
Three decades ago, LexisNexis (Pink Sheet OTC: RLXXF) was the first to offer a searchable electronic database of legal documents, published articles, business intelligence, public records, and archive news. The legal, journalistic, and financial industries all relied heavily on Lexis-Nexis at different time periods, but with journalism spinning into strange uncharted territory, the company has had to pivot and bring its vast collection of data into other areas of service.
Case in point, the Community Crime Map, which allows users to choose an address or city and then pull up a list of crime in the area, with an option of different date ranges and filtered by the type of criminal event. Although the default pulls up the biggies -- murder, arson, robbery, sexual assault -- you can filter to see weapons violations, disorderly conduct, DUIs, even shoplifting.
The public crime map is provided as part of LexisNexis Risk Solutions and is very reliably updated, since it’s actually used by government agencies, including police departments. Obviously the public site only scratches the surface of information that the company’s law enforcement solution provides, but even that is more current and in-depth than that of any other competitors. However, it’s not a site that works well to pull up on a phone and refresh while driving through a neighborhood. You’ll want to be at a desktop and have bandwidth to focus on the search.
The bottom line
You may begin this process thinking "I want to be in a completely crime-free neighborhood," but the more you dig into localized crime research, the murkier it may become. For one reason, busy bar and restaurant streets naturally attract certain types of crime, such as DUIs, alcohol violations, and disorderly conduct. People who want to live within walking distance of dining and drinking options may just have to learn to avoid or overlook this type of activity. On the other hand, numerous break-ins and burglaries in a supposedly luxury neighborhood could easily deter a person from buying, and rightfully so. And of course, these apps are extremely valuable in helping spot stigmatized properties.
Crime-spotting apps provide a bonanza of information, perhaps too much, in that it may panic and overwhelm a person at first glance. Ultimately, though, these tools empower users to make smarter decisions faster about neighborhoods they’re considering to buy in, ultimately saving time for the buyer and seller.