Freesteel Blog » Places in Liverpool to fly over

Places in Liverpool to fly over

Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 11:40 am Written by:

I stayed up last night to scrape and parse the Merseyside Police Force helicopter logs using my new codewiki. (I’ll buy anyone a beer if they find an incident sillier than foot problem at 1:15am 2008-04-30.) The columns in the table are Date, Time, Area, Incident, and Outcome, and there was a typo about every other month in the format of the date or time, often with the delimeter ‘/’ or ‘.’ shifted over one place, but none whatsoever in the over-all table lay-out. This suggests that it’s the output from some sort of a spreadsheet whose entries are not verified. If it was a database you’d have used a DateTime field, and there would never be these sorts of errors in the info-dump.

This is good news, because it probably means they’re not doing graphical analysis and mash-ups of the data, so if I did it, it would be news.

For mash-ups you need GPS positions, and all I’ve got are district names. I can count how many occurances of each name string there are across the logs. Here’s the table of the top 50 Liverpool districts who have sometime been in the small hours of the morning by an incident known as “High visibility policing” whose outcome is “Public reassurance and the prevention and detection of crime” (I’m sure all the other call-outs were equally useful):

506 Huyton 208 Southport 126 Netherton 74 Aigburth 49 Birkdale
489 Kirkby 188 City Centre 119 Everton 69 Hoylake 48 Woolton
376 Bootle 179 Speke 117 Birkenhead 64 Whiston 47 Ainsdale
340 Norris Green 174 Aintree 110 Litherland 62 City centre 46 Rainford
338 St Helens 173 Toxteth 105 Fazakerley 59 Childwall 46 Garston
293 Anfield 161 Maghull 100 Halewood 58 Dingle 45 Haydock
259 Walton 147 Wavertree 98 Wallasey 58 Allerton 44 Netherley
247 Crosby 140 Formby 93 Kirkdale 57 Stockbridge Village 38 Vauxhall
229 Croxteth 137 West Derby 92 Old Swan 57 Seaforth 35 Dovecot
223 City 130 Kensington 88 Tuebrook 53 Prescot 34 Hightown

Converting these names into Lat-Lon locations is a tricky problem, but making them into links into Wikipedia pages as I have done above looks like it will lead to GPS coordinates of 90% of them, thanks to someone’s diligent work out there (I don’t know who). Unfortunately, Wikipedia resists webscraping, but you can download the whole thing and parse it yourself.

Now, I know what you liberal mash-up people are thinking: just do a map of the city and show how those nasty police are tending to buzz the poorer communities more than the wealthier ones.

Well that’s where the crime is, they’re going to say. Someone’s doing drugs? Send the helicopter up in the air to sort them out. What’s it going to do if they don’t happen to be sitting in an open park with no trees surrounding them? Shout at them from above the rooftops?

The compromises that have to be made to account for the physical reality of helicopter flight may mean that what is left-over from this great idea in the pursuit of community policing is of no use whatsoever. But who’s going to prove it when all that would result would be the embarrassment of senior officers and the curtailment of joy-rides throughout the Force? There are some good and hearty conflicts of interests when it comes to assessing the merits of certain pieces of expensive and potentially pointless kit.

Liverpool is a mixed-up in city with the “good” and “bad” areas very intermingled, and they change every couple of years as regeneration continues. I don’t think there’s much at a crude enough resolution for the police helicopter to be able to focus on certain communities who are going to be deprived of their sleep. We Brits put up with it, like busy roads or noisy airplanes.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can do it virtually. For example, Freesteel central (Martin’s house) can be seen at high resolution on the Microsoft bird’s eye view here (I think it’s one of the houses that still has its roof). No expensive and ridiculous glass and steel corporate work-office building floating in a sea of parked cars is necessary for this high-performance machining kernel to be developed. (I wonder which major CAM company will be the first to go to the wall in this recession when they stop making enough money to cover costs. We’re safe: we’ve never made any money in the first place anyway to afford having any expensive costs.)

My freezing cold stone house in St James Cemetery is here, or it can be viewed from above here. The google maps version tries to go for the same resolution, but they haven’t got it, so it’s blurry. I have heard that their street-level view camera car has been sighted earlier in the year.

Which gets us back to the police and their toy factory. Five years ago they installed dense network of CCTV cameras on very tall poles that block various pavements and really offended me at the time. But like most Brits, I’ve had to get used to it. The cameras have little rotating motors and windscreen wipers, and I have never seen them move, so I wonder if they’ve rusted into place by now.

I would suppose that the police should install a nice virtual reality city in their offices using all these google/microsoft/live-maps technologies so they can fly around our houses and dwellings in the dead of the night to their heart’s content without waking us up (or disturbing my latest programming session) to reassure us of their ability to prevent and detect crime from a distant but very noisy gravity-defying vantage point.

Actually, what this will develop into will be a hybrid virtual reality and virtual presence system for flying unmanned drones up and down the streets of the city. The technology that’s being developed and deployed large scale in Iraq, where the people are utterly expendable, will come like so many things to the war in our streets.

You haven’t got a war in your streets?

What do you mean you haven’t got a war in your streets?

Well, we’ll find you one. We’ve got goods to sell here. All it takes is a little bit of fear to get this nationally vital industry going. The mainstream media loves scare stories. We can work with them. Did you know that fear is also an essential ingredient for winning elections? Works almost every time, if you get the mix right. I think we can do business in this economy.

Have you seen how much fun tasers are?

And we would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those pesky kids who also have access to lots of cheap camera equipment and the ability to publish the photos in places for everyone to see, giving their own side of the story.

Who knows? Maybe it will be enough to save this generation from the kinds of crap that used to go down in the good old days.


  • 1. Martin Owen Has A Blog : &hellip replies at 12th January 2009, 10:39 pm :

    […] that can then be used in mashups. An example of a scraper that Julian showed collected entries in Merseyside Police Force Helicopter logs. The data will end up in a simple database table with columns such as (Summary, Time, Post Code, […]

  • 2. Calculator replies at 25th November 2009, 1:43 am :

    Here are some useful maps of the Liverpool area listing the streets like an A to Z: Liverpool

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