The shiny new police crime-mapping system popped up yesterday – and promptly fell back down again.
This is the long-awaited interactive mapping system, launched this week, and designed to allow individuals to compare crime figures across England and Wales.
In practice, widescale public interest in the site has been its undoing. One Reg reader sent us a screen grab yesterday showing a part of a map, accompanied by a series of "cannot connect to mysql" warning messages.
Even this was probably a better result than they would have obtained this morning, when repeated attempts to connect to the site all resulted in a screen message stating that "the connection has timed out".
According to the Home Office, this is no more than teething problems caused by high levels of initial interest. A Home Office spokesperson said: "The high level of public interest in the new national Crime Map has put temporary pressure on the website. Urgent work is underway to resolve this and the website should be fully working again shortly.
"Despite providing significant bandwidth public interest in the website has been much higher than expected - which shows the popularity of the service being offered by crime maps. Contingency plans prepared in advice have been activated to provide additional support for the website."
As of this morning, the contingency plans do not appear to have worked.
A similar fate befell the UK 1901 Census database, which was swamped by inquiries from enthusiastic genealogists from the moment it went online and required several months of additional work before it was able to re-open to the public.
This result will not displease everybody. Back in January, Simon Reed, Vice Chairman, Police Federation of England and Wales was expressing concerns that the release of this information might lead to criminals adjusting their behaviour in order to target areas that appear to offer the best hunting.
He said: "For many years we have used crime data to assist intelligence led policing. Whilst not wishing to restrict what the public can and cannot know, our concern is that statistics released on a monthly basis may feed local criminal intelligence, leading to crime hot spots, and further exacerbate the public’s fear of crime.
"It is essential that any information is fully explained to the public in order to avoid the negative impact of the perception of crime in their area."
This concern will be familiar to journalists investigating crime-related issues in the UK. Public bodies may refuse to respond to a Freedom of Information request where they can demonstrate public interest in wtihholding information. Over the last year, on a number of occasions, police forces have rejected FoI requests on the grounds that by putting together information from several Force Areas, criminals might be able to operate more effectively. ®
As of Tuesday lunchtime the site was back up again, accompanied by the message: "Due to very high popularity users may experience temporary intermittent issues accessing this site. The issues are being worked on and will be resolved as soon as possible."