Garvey also says she hopes the map will draw readers in, making the page a destination for more tips, information and conversation. To that end, they will soon build up the page to include discussion forums and tip lines.

People are knowledgeable about where they live. They have neighborhood watches, they have neighborhood homeowners’ associations, and we really hope that people who are already really plugged into their community will share what they know with The L.A. Times readers, so that you create this central place where everyone can come—I think of it as a sort of virtual neighborhood watch.

For privacy reasons, and reasons of access, probably, the crime reports don’t have names or mugshots, and those omissions may diminish the traffic that would result from more voyeuristic police-blotter-style updates. As a resource, though, this kind of project is the best kind of online feature that a news site can provide—a public service, online community builder, and a site traffic booster in one. That is, if people participate. Right now, it is just a data dump of incident reports, without providing much context. For it to have real journalistic value, some editorial involvement is necessary: reporters seeing the patterns in the data and following up on them to find stories in the numbers, for instance, or a filter for verifying and publishing the tips, photos and personal accounts that readers submit to supplement the raw data that’s up there now. Crime L.A. has a lot of potential; let’s see what people do with it.

*[Update: This post previously indicated that The Batavian was a Chicago-based site; it is located in New York. The error has been corrected.]

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner