Earlier attempts didn’t particularly excite the interest of the public. This time the site buckled under the pressure of 18 million hits an hour.
So what’s different?
Unlike previous incarnations (see the Met’s borough and ward crime map for an example) it attempts to map crime on a street-by-street level.
You can now see exactly how many crimes have been recorded by the police on your doorstep, rather than a total for a much larger area.
But aside from the curiosity effect that many websites experience on launch, the reaction to the site itself has been mixed.
For every person who thinks it’s ‘too much information’ (the reaction of young mums in Windsor, apparently), others find it vague, flawed, useless and even misleading. It’s also been reported that the site cost £300,000 of public money to develop.
While the site has made its data freely available, the data itself has already been sorted and condensed into simple but vague categories.
Homicide is combined with GBH and assault to form ‘violence’, sexual assaults are placed with an unknown number of other offences under the tag ‘Other.’
Crimes are mapped by month rather than given a specific date and time, and all crimes for a street are placed in the middle of that street, concealing the differentiation between pubs, clubs, shops etc and residential buildings. It seems some residential streets in west London have been allotted crimes that took place at Heathrow Airport.
The argument is that crimes should be anonymised to protect the victims being identified – but the Americans have been mapping individual incidents for years (see below). These days they even show the exact addresses of sex offenders.
On the upside, there are developments on the way. Pilot schemes in different areas of the country are looking into daily updates, a case tracking system for victims, information about convicted offenders and mapping trends for offences.
One benefit of releasing full open data is that it can be used to create all kinds of different visualisations without any cost to the taxpayer. The newspapers naturally looked for the most crime-ridden streets of the country, but one of the best early examples was this ‘hotspot’ map of London.
Purely from murdermap’s point of view, the new data won’t help at all with the massive task of tracking down every murder and inputting it into the database. All the police provide are numbers, but numbers tell only half the story.