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UK police crime map website: Who's the victim here?

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Not that great, but at least it cost a lot

"I'm just hoping that they pay for my bandwidth, and if I am really lucky I get a beer for my efforts.”

We think West, who like so many others in the UK developer community welcomes the government’s efforts on getting some datasets opened up, certainly does deserve a pint or two if for nothing else highlighting what can be done with very few funds, a solid developer brain and eight hours to kill.

The unregistered Police.uk domain has been in existence for 15 years, since about the middle of 1996. It has undergone several incarnations during that time, but in recent years its pages were somewhat surprisingly bereft of any content.

As for the government’s crime-mapping efforts, a separate project was launched in October 2009. Rock Kitchen Harris designed an interactive mapping system for British citizens to compare crime figures across England and Wales using data garnered from 43 police forces. In that instance, the company powered its maps via Microsoft's Bing offering rather than Google’s geocoding API.

Beyond that there was something very similar about the launch: the site unceremoniously crashed under the load from people keen to sift through the data online. A visit to that site now tells us that this service “has now been integrated into the Police.uk website, and includes street-level crime data and many other enhancements.”

Following the launch of Police.uk earlier this week, data inaccuracies have been repeatedly reported by people getting the wrong results or none at all after punching their postcode into the system.

Meanwhile, Rock Kitchen Harris’s account manager Paul Sculthorpe has been defending his company’s expensive project via Twitter.

“We scaled with demand (to a point!) with EC2, but still ended up slow/unusable. Demand high now, but normal soon I hope!” he said.

So while some credit is due to the government for releasing the datasets, even if they are made available in unsatisfactory monthly chunks, the way it presented the whole thing has left many coders wondering why the hell it had to cost so much.

“In these times of austerity, I just hate to see my money to be wasted in this way. With just a bit of lateral thinking, I am sure the government could save us all a bit of money,” said West. We’ll certainly drink to that. ®

*For the benefit of our friend at the Home Office, the API is here.

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