Street-level crime maps launched online

image captionThe maps will record reports of different categories of crime and anti-social behaviour

New online crime maps for England and Wales have been launched, allowing users to see which offences have been reported in their local streets.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the maps would give real facts and make police more accountable.

The public can search for information on crime and anti-social behaviour by entering a street name or postcode.

Some people have had problems accessing the website, A minister said there had been heavy use.

Policing Minister Nick Herbert told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the website had been receiving 75,000 hits per minute.

A spokesman for charity Victim Support said it was important that victims of crime had consented as to whether information about their incident was released.

Meanwhile, Mrs May said she expected the public reaction to be positive and denied the information could increase fear or drive down house prices in some areas.

Visitors to the website, which cost £300,000 to develop, will be able to find out which crimes have taken place on or near their street within the past month and which officers are responsible for their area.

Information on crime is broken down into six categories - burglary, robbery, vehicle crime, violence, other crime and anti-social behaviour. Sex crimes have been included in the "other" category, along with crimes such as theft and shoplifting, to help prevent victims from being identified.

Local police appeals and details of police community meetings will also be published alongside the maps.

The website provides more detail, down to street-level, than existing online crime maps provided by forces in England and Wales.

Crime trends will also be established as the site develops and could be extended to include details on the outcomes of court cases, or a system for individual victims to track the progress of their case online.

The site show more than 6,500 incidents of anti-social behaviour were recorded by police in England and Wales every day in December.

'Transparency agenda'

The Metropolitan Police was the force with the highest number of recorded incidents of anti-social behaviour in December - 34,463 incidents.

Police forces in Greater Manchester and West Midlands had the next highest number of incidents - 10,233 and 8,442 respectively.

According to the maps, parts of Preston, Swansea and Thurrock in Essex are among the most crime-ridden places in England and Wales.

The government said the site was an important part of its "transparency agenda", making the data available in an open format so that communities could use it to "help people engage with the police in a meaningful way".

Mrs May said: "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 they will feel a greater connection with the police, with much more information about where they can go to, and who they can work with."

System 'confusing'

"This is giving people a real tool, real power to see that something is being done about crime in their area. This doesn't make them frightened, it actually makes them feel a part of what is happening."

Policing Minister Nick Herbert also insisted that the more detailed information would not increase the fear of crime, adding: "We can't sweep crime under the carpet."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the crime maps, although she said they "should also include police strength for forces across the UK".

She said: "Knowing where crime takes place isn't enough if there aren't sufficient police to deal with it.

"People want to know what effect the government's deep and rapid cuts to the police are going to have on their area."

Streets with fewer than 12 houses will only be included in a wider geographic area to prevent identification of victims.

However, the inclusion of a "quiet street" as one of the most crime-ridden in the country has been criticised by the local council.

'Complete farce'

The crime maps show Surrey Street in Portsmouth, Hampshire, as having 136 crimes, including burglary, violence and anti-social behaviour in December.

But the street, which is less than 100m long, is only home to a pub, a car park and a block of flats.

Councillor Eleanor Scott, who is responsible for community safety at Portsmouth City Council, 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."

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 nearby bars and clubs.

Victim Support said victims' privacy should be protected, but that enough information should be given to the public "for them to be able to hold the police and criminal justice system to account".

"Victims and witnesses of crime often tell us that the criminal justice system can be confusing and unwieldy. This recommendation to publish fuller information has the potential to bring greater transparency to the workings of the criminal justice system for victims, witnesses and the public."

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