Millions of hits crash crime-mapping website
Tuesday 01 February 2011
The Government's new crime-mapping website attracted 300,000 hits a minute today, leaving millions frustrated as the site crashed within hours of being launched.
Up to 18 million hits an hour froze the site, which was designed to give people the information they need to hold their local police to account.
The Home Office blamed "temporary" problems with the site at http://www.police.uk, adding it was delighted with the "extremely high demand".
Writing on Twitter, the Home Office said: "Most popular gov website ever? Demand for new crime maps at around 300k a minute, equivalent to 18m hits an hr. Working hard to make sure everyone can access."
Early glitches in the way the crime figures were collected also caused problems, with Sussex Police's main call handling centres ranking highly on the crime map and "quiet streets" next to large commercial centres being tarred with their crimes.
Bolnore Road in Haywards Heath, West Sussex - where the force HQ is based - showed abnormally high levels of anti-social behaviour.
A Sussex Police spokesman said the high figures related to hoax calls which were recorded on site because there was no alternative location.
The problem also raised questions about how other forces had collated their data.
And the inclusion of a "quiet street" as one of the most crime-ridden in the country was branded "crackers" by the local council.
Surrey Street in Portsmouth, Hampshire, was shown as having 136 crimes, including burglary, violence and anti-social behaviour in December.
But the street, which is less than 100 metres long, is home only to a "respectable" pub used by postal workers, a car park and a block of flats.
Councillor Eleanor Scott, who is responsible for community safety at Portsmouth City Council, said the figures were a blight on the street and its pub, The Surrey Arms.
She said that while the website was showing "too many" crimes for Surrey Street, it failed to record the burglary of her own home elsewhere in Portsmouth.
"It's a tiny street, there's a few flats, a car park and a nice respectable pub where the postal workers from the nearby postal depot stop for a drink," she said.
"If Portsmouth is anything to go by, this website is a complete farce, it's identifying wrong crime epicentres and missing out crimes in other areas, so you can't rely on it."
The crime map was "distorted and inaccurate", she added.
Chief Superintendent Nigel Hindle, commander of Portsmouth police, said the postcode of Surrey Street was used to record incidents of retail crime such as shoplifting from the adjacent commercial centre and violent crime from the bars and clubs of nearby Guildhall Walk.
Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said the maps would help people find out what was really going on in their area.
Glovers Court in Preston and its surrounding area was the most crime-ridden place in England and Wales, the figures showed.
More than 150 crimes and incidents of anti-social behaviour, including 44 violent crimes, were reported on the street or nearby in December alone - the highest figure for any street in England and Wales during December.
Mrs May denied that making such detailed information available would drive down house prices in a particular area, saying: "It's not the existence of a map on a website that affects it."
Policing Minister Nick Herbert also insisted that the more detailed information on the site, which cost £300,000 to develop, would not increase the fear of crime.
"We can't sweep crime under the carpet," he said.
"We have to tell the truth about crime, we have to reveal the truth about what is happening and give the information and the power to the public.
"It's the crime that's the problem and this is a very important part of a strengthened effort to fight crime, to enhance accountability, to ensure that something is being done and to involve the public in that fight."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the crime maps, but said they "should also include police strength for forces across the UK".
"Knowing where crime takes place isn't enough if there aren't sufficient police to deal with it," she said.
"People want to know what effect the Government's deep and rapid cuts to the police are going to have on their area."
Mark Burns-Williamson, deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities (APA), said: "Crime mapping brings accountability to the armchair for everyone who wants to monitor crime on their street.
"The popularity of crime mapping shows people identify with, and want to influence, their neighbourhood and their district, and that accountability must be accessible."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The site is experiencing extremely high demand today - around four to five million per hour. We are delighted with the response which shows how popular this new information is with the public.
"This is a temporary problem and we are working hard to fix it and hope to have the website back up shortly."
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham added that crime mapping could be "an effective means of letting people know what crimes are taking place in their local area".
But he warned that "care needs to be taken as this can potentially have an impact on the privacy of individuals such as victims or witnesses".
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