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See where crime is happening

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Ever wonder what's happening on your street?

Ever pass a neighbor's house and wonder why the sheriff's cars are in the yard?

Now you can find out without looking nosy - even though the Levy County Sheriff's Office thinks a little nosiness is a good thing when it comes to deterring crime.

That's why the Sheriff's Office has partnered with Public Engines, a software development company, to become the second sheriff's office in Florida to post its crime incident information on the Internet.

Levy County residents can go to www.crimereports.com click down to Levy County, enter a time - like 1,7, or 14 days, enter an address and see the incidents in that area. Another click and you can see details.

Another feature will also allow you to view where registered sex offenders are living and photos of the person.

The service also allows signing up for e-mail alerts when something happens in a neighborhood, much like the popular WeatherBug service that sends e-mail alerts of incoming bad weather.

The information is updated every night, said Sgt. Scott Finnen, a training officer who pursued getting the sheriff's office on the website. "This puts people in the know that want to be in the know," Finnen said.

"They placed a little thing in our system and every night at midnight it goes into our system and takes all this information and maps it," Finnen said, simplifying what Public Engine's software does.

"This is not only great for the public, but for our officers," he said. "An officer comes back on Monday after two weeks vacation he can enter a location and see what happened."

Lt. Evan Sullivan, public information officer, said this will allow the Sheriff's Office to work smarter and be able to allocate resources where needed.

And it sure bats using push pins in a map to see if there are "clusters" of crime.

The service is rather cheap too: $50 a month.

Finnen said his brother, who works with similar programs, said he would charge $1,000 a month for the same service.

This can take the place of a crime analyst costing $38,000 a year," Finnen said.

The sheriff's office has been working with Public Engines for several months on a beta version of the program to work out any kinks. There may still be some adjustments, but the department decided to release the program for public viewing.

"With the budget constraints Sheriff Johnny White is going to try arming citizens with this information so they can help the sheriff's office reduce crime."

"We want people to be in touch, to be aware. But we don't want them to get involved in policing," Sullivan said.

If a citizen sees the incident reports at the site and thinks they have some useful information, Sullivan said they should call the sheriff's office with the information.

That's a part of the "home town feel" that Smith wants in the program where the public and officers can communicate.