Home Office release online crime maps

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Six categories of crime

This week the Home Office made England and Wales the first countries in the world to share street by street crime data with the public. Through the website www.police.uk, you can search by postcode, town or street name and scan through all reported crimes by their location. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said the maps would make the police more accountable. A flood of traffic to the site has seized it at the time of writing, however, with many people reporting that they are unable to access the information properly.

The site, which reportedly cost £300,000 to develop, shows incidences of crime in six categories: burglary, robbery, vehicle crime, violence, other crime and anti-social behaviour. Sex crimes, theft and shoplifting have been included in the 'other category', to help protect the identity of victims. The precise location of the crimes has also been generalised to about 12 houses, again to help protect the identity of victims. A statement on the site reads, "The location of incidents shown is approximated and indicative only. This is to protect the anonymity of individuals."

House price concerns

Beyond the problems people have had accessing the site in the first 24 hours, something a minister blamed on 'heavy use', a mixed response has greeted the project. One of the main initial criticisms has been that it will affect house prices in certain areas, particularly those with high crime rates. This was refuted by Ms May, who said, "I think the public reaction will be positive. I think people are going to welcome the fact they can really see what's happening with crime in their area, not just on their street but in their neighbourhood. I think that over time, it will have an impact on crime. This is about fighting crime together."

One possible use for the information that is already being discussed is the development of apps for smartphones that track the information through GPS and relay it to the user in real time. This could be used, for example, to help you navigate your way home through 'safer' streets.