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This screen shot shows the locations of bear-sightings reported to Merrimack Police since Jan. 1. Similar maps are online, showing monthly locations of vehicle stops, burglaries, accidents and thefts from motor vehicles.
Friday, April 27, 2012

Bear sightings, and other police reports, mapped by Merrimack PD

MERRIMACK - Lots of vehicle stops along Naticook Road. A cluster of vehicle thefts near Front Street in January. Bear sightings here, there and elsewhere.

Those are part of life in Merrimack, as shown on the newest public information tool from the Police Department: monthly maps showing service calls for various subjects.

"We're interested in giving people as much information as we can, in a form that's affordable," said Police Chief Mark Doyle of the "Call Mapping" function, which launched on the department's website Monday.

The department used an off-the-shelf Microsoft program called MapPoint, which takes the data from their computer-aided dispatch system and turns it into a map, with "pins" marking calls. Once a month, the department takes a digital snapshot of maps in PDF form and posts them online.

"It takes very little time out of the day," Doyle said.

The result isn't interactive and updated daily, but it still gives a view of police activity that was previously difficult for casual residents to find, Doyle said.

The Nashua Police Department has teamed up with The Telegraph to produce a crime map hosted on The Telegraph's Police, Crime and Public Safety page.

The Hudson Police Department has had a similar map for some time on its website. It shows maps for each month's worth of service calls about criminal mischief, reportable accidents and thefts.

The Merrimack maps show monthly calls for all vehicle stops, for reportable accidents (those with more than $1,000 in damage), for burglaries and for thefts from motor vehicles.

There's also a map showing the four bear sightings reported in town since Jan. 1. That's part of the mix because, as Doyle said, "people are interested in bears."

These maps were chosen because they showed topics of general interest, Doyle said, but other maps may be added to the mix as the department gets used to the process.

"We want to walk before we run, put up what we think people would want to know," he said.

The Police Department is gathering suggestions in town and online about other possible maps. One possibility? Reports of vandalism.

The idea of such information is to get people thinking about what's happening in their community.

"They'll see it, say, 'I didn't know this was happening - I saw something the other night, maybe I should call the police,' " he said. "People want this kind of information."

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or