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Crime Mapping and Analysis

Law Enforcement Agencies Are Turning to Maps and Geographic Technologies

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Crime Mapping and Analysis

Shreveport Police Officer Cpl. Will Bates and his dog partner 'Nero' proceed to search a car for drugs and weapons January 25, 2005 in Bossier City, Louisiana. Crime mapping allows law enforcement a geographic tool to track crimes.

Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images
Updated April 16, 2010
Geography is a field that is ever-changing and ever-growing. One of its newer sub-disciplines is crime mapping, which uses geographic technologies in order to aid in crime analysis. In an interview with Steven R. Hick, a leading geographer in the field of crime mapping, he gave a thorough overview of the state of the field and what’s to come.

What is Crime Mapping?

Crime mapping is a sub-discipline of geography that works to answer the question, “What crime is happening where?” It focuses on mapping incidents, identifying hot spots where the most crime occurs and analyzing the spatial relationships of targets and these hot spots. Crime analysis once focused purely on the perpetrator and the victim, but did not take into account the location that the crime took place. In the last fifteen years, crime mapping has become more prevalent and uncovering patterns has become pertinent in solving crimes.

Crime mapping identifies not only where the actual crime took place, but also looks at where the perpetrator “lives, works, and plays” as well as where the victim “lives, works, and plays.” Crime analysis has identified that the majority of criminals tend to commit crimes within their comfort zones, and crime mapping is what allows police and investigators to see where that comfort zone might be.

Predictive Policing Through Crime Mapping

According to Hick, “predictive policing” is the buzz word that is currently being used most commonly in reference to the state of crime analysis. The goal of predictive policing is to take the data that we already have and use it to predict where and when crime will occur.

The use of predictive policing is a much more cost effective approach to policing than past policies. This is because predictive policing not only looks at where a crime is likely to occur, but also when the crime is likely to occur. These patterns can help police identify what time of day it is necessary to flood an area with officers, rather than flooding the area twenty-four hours a day.

Types of Crime Analysis

There are three primary types of crime analysis that can occur through crime mapping.

Tactical Crime Analysis: This type of crime analysis looks at the short-term in order to stop what is currently taking place, for example, a crime spree. It is used to identify one perpetrator with many targets or one target with many perpetrators and provide an immediate response.

Strategic Crime Analysis: This type of crime analysis looks at the long-term and on-going issues. Its focus is often on identifying areas with high crime rates and problem solving ways to decrease the overall crime rates.

Administrative Crime Analysis This type of crime analysis looks at the administration and deployment of police and resources and asks the question, “Are there enough police officers at the right time and place?” and then works to make the answer, “Yes.”

Crime Data Sources

Most of the data that is used in crime mapping and analysis originates from police dispatch/911 response centers. When a call comes in, the incident is entered into the database. The database can then be queried. If a crime is committed, the crime goes into the crime management system. If and when a perpetrator is caught, the incident then is entered into the court database, then, if convicted, the corrections database, and then possibly, eventually the parole database. Data is drawn from all of these sources in order to identify patterns and solve crimes.

Crime Mapping Software

The most common software programs used in crime mapping are ArcGIS and MapInfo, as well as some other spatial statistic programs. Many programs have special extensions and applications that can be used to aid in crime mapping. ArcGIS uses CrimeStat and MapInfo uses CrimeView.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design or CPTED is one aspect of crime prevention developed through crime analysis. CPTED involves the implementation of items such as lights, phones, motion sensors, steel bars on windows, a dog, or alarm systems in order to prevent the occurrence of crimes.

Careers in Crime Mapping

Since crime mapping has become more and more common, there are many careers available in the field. Most police departments hire at least one sworn crime analyst. This person works with GIS and crime mapping, as well as statistical analysis to aid in solving crimes. There are also civilian crime analysts who work with mapping, reports, and attend meetings.

There are classes available in crime mapping; Hick is one professional who has been teaching these classes for several years. There are also conferences available for both professionals and beginners in the field.

Additional Resources on Crime Mapping

The International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) is a group that was formed in 1990 to advance the field of crime analysis and help law enforcement agencies and crime analysts to work more productively and use crime analysis more effectively to solve crime.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is a research agency of the United States Department of Justice that works to develop innovative solutions to crime.

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