Every spring police release a report showing how many crimes were committed and how many were solved, but there is a faster way to find out where police are being dispatched and why.

Thieves target thousands of homes and businesses in Waterloo Region every year, finding a way in and helping themselves.

But finding out where the crimes are happening, and if you live in an ‘at risk' area, isn't easy.

Waterloo Regional Police Service Staff Sgt. David Mathes says "during the day is prime time, when people are away."

Protecting the reputation of certain areas, victim privacy and ongoing investigations, prevents police from releasing too much information.

But an online tool known as ‘crime mapping' can show you how often police are being called to various neighbourhoods for break and enters, as well as other criminal activity like drugs and prostitution.

While the maps never reveal the victim or the caller's exact location, it does give a general idea of where crimes are taking place.

Mathes says "This is a step forward for us in our community, to keep people engaged."

The Ottawa Police Service is among 1,600 forces using the private company CrimeReports.com, which lists the type of call, as well as specific details like incident numbers and the items allegedly stolen.

Users can also create neighbourhood groups, and register security cameras.

Crime mapping is becoming increasingly popular among police forces, and some systems are becoming more sophisticated.

In January the British government unveiled a nationwide system, where the country's 43 police forces are now required to submit data, which is then posted to a single public site.

It has been touted as a way to increase community engagement and police accountability and specific neighbourhoods can be viewed by simply entering a postal code.

British Home Office Minister Theresa May told the media "What this would give to people is real information of what is going on in crime and anti-social behaviour crucially for the first time in their local area."

But there are some concerns. Critics say these types of systems have the potential to bring down housing values and spread fear.

But the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which developed the site, says public feedback has been positive.

Steve Mortimore, assistant chief constable with the NPIA, says "What we found was that being informed, more informed at a local level, does not necessarily increase fear…A, it confirmed that they lived in a safer area, or B, being more informed meant they could take action themselves."

Some fear the maps that the Waterloo Regional Police Service offers will give people the wrong impression, because while the British system plots each incident, the Waterloo system plots calls for service. That means if five people call to report one crime, five markers could be plotted.

George Patton of the K-W Real Estate Board is among those voicing concerns. He says if "I am in Calgary, looking at Kitchener-Waterloo, why would I ever go there, that's just a major crime scene, and that's not the case at all."

He adds "The police went there, they may have discovered it was a mistake, nobody was there, maybe the occurrence never took place."

Waterloo Regional Police are cautioning people against using the data to make comparisons or to assess the safety of certain areas.

Mathes says "It's not an exact science, and may not indicate a full picture of what's going on there, but at least it lets the public know what other citizens are seeing in their neighbourhoods."

Coming up in part three: How to make your home less attractive to potential thieves.