We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Understanding Crime Mapping and Hot Spots in the United States

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

Crime is a part of everyday life all over the world today. There are violent crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery all the way down to small, petty crimes such as vandalism. But in some areas of the world, crime is much worse than in others. Why is that? This paper will focus on understanding hot spots and crime mapping throughout the United States. The topics discussed will be the history of crime mapping, how crime mapping is used today, hot spots in the U.S., social disorganization theories in crime mapping and hot spots, the broken windows theory, crime prevention through neighborhood communication and reporting and analyzing crime.

According to professor Sharon Chamard, the history of crime mapping traces its origin back to France in 1829 when Adriano Balbi and Andre Michel Guerry created maps that showed the relationship between violent and property crimes and educational levels (Chamard, 2006). Crime mapping has been a tool used for policing for a long time. Crime mapping has a long history and it has been adopted on a much broader basis since the advent of desktop computers made mapping dramatically easier. Crime mapping technology has not been without its problems, however. The software has lessened the time and labor required to generate maps, the production of sophisticated maps and their integration into policing have not been straightforward. But that is to be expected with any new technology being that no type of technology is perfect. But it is safe to say that crime mapping has helped law enforcement agencies significantly.

The early maps used by law enforcement agencies before the use of technology are examples of choropeth maps(Chamard, 2006). These are maps that display quantities of things in areas. These choropleth maps highlights the activities that are happening in the area. Some maps showed the levels of education. Some maps might show the level of crime in the area. Chamard also found through research that perhaps the best known early maps in criminology were created by the Chicago School sociologists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay(Chamard, 2006). Shaw and McKay constructed a choropleth map using a collection of addresses of around 3,000 male delinquents in Chicago for the period 1927 to 1933. The map featured polygon shading to indicate rates of delinquency.

Shaw and McKay also constructed point maps of the locations of the residences of about 10,000 male delinquents who had been involved in the Chicago juvenile court system from 1934 to 1940. Shaw and McKay noted that the spatial relations and distribution of juvenile delinquents’ homes remained fairly constant over these differing time spans despite the fact that the juveniles’ families moved to different homes in various areas of Chicago. There are advantages and disadvantages to the use of technology for crime mapping. According to Charmard, before the use of technology and computers, law enforcement agencies used to perform crime mapping techniques by placing a large map of the city on a wall inside the department. Officers would then take small needles and place it into a spot on the map to indicate in the city where the highest crime happened and where the most officers needed to be deployed(Chamard, 2006).

Technology changes in today’s society, such as the increase of the use of desktop computers, has been the main reason for the recent rapid growth in crime mapping by American police departments. Desktop computers have made the creation of maps much faster than the map and needles. Computerized crime mapping now relies less on labor-intensive processes; it is no longer necessary to draw maps by hand. Pressing only a few buttons on a keyboard produces similar effects. Desktop computers are also less prone to making mistakes than human laborers. However, despite the advantages of computerized crime mapping, there are disadvantages. First of all, not many police personnel had interest in learning how to use the new technology even those many departments could afford computers.

Second, significant costs exist in setting up a computerized crime mapping system, including those related to accessing and cleaning data, importing data into the GIS, and maintaining the GIS, as well as related training and implementation issues (Mamalian & LaVinge, 1999). These costs vary widely depending on the local resources available to the department and the willingness of other departments to share their methods and techniques of using the technology planning. These are those departments that have more financial resources, time, training, and knowledge, as the primary contributing factors in their decision to implement this technology to other departments. This just goes to show that some of the more experienced veterans can use the map and needle more efficiently than they would like using the new computers.

Crime mapping plays an important role in almost any form of crime analysis and can improve the understanding of the important relationships between people, location, time, and crime. Crime mapping can be used to point out specific crime locations. It can assist law enforcement officers in discovering crime patterns, implementing corrective strategies, optimizing resource allocation and developing crime prevention measures(Hart & Zanderburg, 2009). Crime mapping is especially important in areas where heavy and violent criminal activity is known to occur. This can range anywhere from gang-infested areas or areas along America’s borders where there is heavy organized crime members may try to smuggle drugs or humans and the attempt of terrorists to enter the United States smuggling weapons of mass destruction or other chemical agents. However, it is not enough to just have a crime map. Law enforcement officers need to be able to understand and expand their map-reading skills. As with any type of map, one needs to be able to understand symbols, features, distances, scales, grid coordination, and many other mapping features. Crime-mapping data has its own language. According to Thomas Baker, not understanding the language may interfere with data visualization and interpretation(Baker, 2005).

Baker explains that the Geographic Information System (GIS) is a tool that can be applied within law enforcement agencies to assist with mapping crime. The mapping technique can be used along with other crime analysis techniques to keep law enforcement officers a step ahead of the offenders. Some analysts define GIS in different ways. One author for example defines GIS as “a special case of information systems where the database consists of observations on spatially distributed features, activities or events, which are definable in space as points, lines, or areas”(Baker, 2005). Another way that crime mapping is useful to law enforcement is that it helps officers to keep up with and follow the trend of crime in the neighborhood. For example, one particular area might be known for robberies at certain hours of the night. Another area might be known for murder and gang violence during certain hours. Other neighborhoods could have a history of houses being broken into. Or there may be a lone offender that the agency has intelligence on; however, it is a matter of figuring out where this offender is most likely to strike next.

This is why it is important to be able to understand crime mapping and the usefulness of such maps. In Baker’s book, “Introductory Criminal Analysis: Crime Prevention and Intervention Strategies”, researchers Velasco and Boba give details about the terms that are associated with crime mapping concerts. They are a pattern, which is an arrangement of an order of crime; a trend which is a specific type of pattern; a series which is a run of similar crimes committed by the same individuals; a spree which is when criminal activity seems to appear continuously; a hot spot which is a small area where crime occurs frequently; a hot dot which is a victim who repeatedly suffers crime; a hot product refers to a type of property that is the target of different types of crimes; and hot targets which are those areas that are victimized but are not included in the definition of hot spots, hot dots, or hot products(Baker, 2005).

What specific programs or tools are used to help law enforcement officers map crime? According to researchers, Cynthia Mamalian and Nancy LaVigne, crime mapping for law enforcement officers is getting easier. 88 percent use commercially available software packages; 38 percent have customized a commercially available mapping application or have developed a custom mapping program specifically for internal use; 89 percent use personal or desktop computers; 82 percent use the Internet and other technically advanced resources; and 16 percent use Global Positioning Systems to assist in their operations (Mamalian & LaVigne, 1999). The use of crime mapping should become easier for law enforcement officers as time passes. They have all the technological resources to help them identify hot spots or lone offenders who set a pattern all the while technology is still rapidly advancing. Here in the year 2012, there are upgraded GIS tools and the training that comes along with how to use these devices. Law enforcement officers must be trained properly in order to be effective in putting these tools and programs to work. An agency can have the best technology available but if the officers don’t know how to use the technology, then it will not be of much use.

There are crimes being committed everywhere in the U.S. today. Even the “safest” city in America will have some degree of crime somewhere. But there are differences that distinguish the safest city from the most dangerous city as researchers claim. Certain major American cities such as Detroit, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Chicago are just a few to name that are known for heavy gang and criminal activity. Some areas of these cities are considered safer than others. Those areas that are heavily influenced by criminal activity is known as a “hot spot”. A more detailed definition of a hot spot is a specific location or area where an unusual amount of criminal activity occurs that is committed by one or more offenders(Baker, 2005). Hots spots of crime have been examined for some time now by criminal justice researchers. Different findings have allowed law enforcement officers to adjust policing practices in recognition of hot spots. One example of a known hot spot are the gang-infested neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Years of feuding between well-known gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have taken place in the Los Angeles neighborhood zones of as Compton, Watts, or The Valley.

In Oakland, California, there are physical problems that help contribute to the criminal activity that takes place in some hot spots. According to Ralph B. Taylor, author of “Breaking Away from Broken Windows”, the problems of these neighborhoods not only involve criminal activity, but they include deteriorated housing, abandoned housing, poorly maintained properties, lots, sidewalks, and playgrounds. There is also graffiti drawn on buildings and overpasses and trash along the neighborhood streets(Taylor, 2001). These types of conditions, especially the abandoned property, are very suitable spots for the likes of drug dealers, robbers, and other potential offenders. For years, researchers and police have connected these physical conditions with offenses such as drug dealing, public drinking, and public drug use. This also affects law-abiding citizens who still live in the area but have not or cannot obtained the resources to move to new, safer neighborhoods.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there is heavy juvenile delinquent activity in the Southside. Taylor refers to this activity as “social incivilities”(Taylor, 2001). These are street activities that are deemed disorderly, troublesome, and threatening. Activity such as rowdy teens, public drunkeness, fights on the street, disorderly or sick drug users, and large numbers of people loitering in dark areas at odd hours of the night can all be categorized under social incivilities. When a neighborhood is being overrun by criminal activity, the issue to focus on is how residents feel about their own safety and the future of their neighborhood.

There are several articles and websites created by authors who explain the hot spots of New York City. According to Lora Krsulich, crime has actually been reduced in New York City hot spots with the use of hot spot policing (Krsulich, 2011). Hot spots policing has also been positively effective in the cities of Minneapolis, MN, Jersey City, NJ, Richmond, VA, and Seattle, WA. It is safe to say that hot spots policing evaluations indicate that focusing police resources in a particular area doesn’t move crime “around the corner,” and that a brief police patrol can help to deter crime most of the time. Sometimes, law enforcement officers can tell which neighborhoods are plagued by criminal activity without having to witness a crime. The history of the area, as well as observations of how neighborhoods are kept, can determine whether criminal activity is prevalent in that area or if the area is deemed to be an incivility neighborhood. An example would be some of the lower class neighborhoods of Baltimore, Maryland(Taylor, 2001). Incivility indicators simply mean the feelings that individuals will most likely receive when entering these neighborhoods.

Those who are not familiar with the area may feel a sense of perceived risk, anxiety, fear of crime, etc. This can be caused by disorderly conduct seen by juveniles or adults, graffiti marking the territory of a gang, broken, abandoned or deteriorated housing, and streets that are not well kept. The negative feelings associated with certain neighborhoods will make it lack in some way the necessary guardian needed to prevent crime; therefore, causing a prime example of what is known as the “Routine Activity Theory”. The Routine Activity Theory states that a crime is most likely to occur if three elements are present. These three elements are: 1. A likely offender; 2. A suitable target; and 3. A lack of a capable guardian. A likely offender may be a juvenile delinquent or a frequent offender who is known for committing crimes. A suitable target may be in the form of a car that can be stolen or a house that could be broken into. The lack of a capable guardian usually comes into play when citizens have given up looking out for one another’s property or simply do not care due to the neighborhood being overrun by criminal activity.

Law enforcement as well as the community as a whole should look at what causes more crime in certain areas than others. What makes one community more “safe” than the other? The thing that causes an increase of crime in most communities is what is known as social disorganization (Taylor, 2001). The social disorganization theory was created and studied by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay. Shaw and McKay traced social disorganization to conditions endemic to the urban areas that were the only places the newly arriving poor could afford to live. There was also a high rate of residential instability and mixes of people from different cultural backgrounds. According to Wayne D. Osgood and Jeff M. Chambers, social disorganization theory specifies several variables: residential instability, ethnic diversity, family disruption, economic status, population size or density, and proximity to urban areas(Chambers & Osgood, 2003). All of these factors influence a community’s capacity to develop and maintain strong systems of social relationships.

With residential instability, researchers expected that rates of juvenile violence in rural communities would increase as rates of residential instability increased. When the population of an area is constantly changing, the residents have fewer opportunities to develop strong, personal ties to one another and to participate in community organizations (Chambers & Osgood, 2003). This has been one of the main issues that is backed by research on social disorganization since its inception. Massive population change is also another underlying effect on the research of rural settings.

According to social disorganization theory, it could be expected that, as in urban areas, rates of juvenile violence would be higher in rural communities with greater ethnic diversity (Chambers & Osgood, 2003). According to Shaw and McKay (1942), ethnic diversity interferes with communication among adults. Effective communication may be a problem for those with different cultures and backgrounds because of the lack of shared experiences and possibly different problems. For example, a family of African-Americans may experience different problems and society difficulties than that of a Mexican-American family. It is important to distinguish this theoretically driven hypothesis about heterogeneity from simple ethnic differences in offense rates.

In the case of family disruption, it is assumed that juvenile delinquency rates are higher among juveniles who grow up in broken homes and communities in both rural and urban settings. Research has shown that positive influences from family and friends will be the early factors in determining whether or not a juvenile tends to engage in criminal behavior (Triplett & Gainey, 2007). The absence of parents to a child in the early stages of life will interfere with their ability ability to supervise their children and communicate with them. Furthermore, the smaller the number of parents in a community relative to the number of children, the more limited the networks of adult supervision will be for all the children.

The role of economic status in social disorganization theory is based on patterns of growth in urban areas. Taylor also explains in his book “Breaking Away from Broken Windows” the main concepts to the social disorganization theory and the economic breakdown of communities that causes communities to suffer from constant criminal activity. They are 1. The inability to “govern” behavior of its residents, including children and teens; 2. To work toward common goals for the betterment of the community or neighborhood. Disorganized communities also lack sufficient ties to governing agencies and resources outside of the community(Taylor, 2001). These are the neighborhoods where individuals will see more crime, delinquency, and forms of vandalism occur. Abandoned houses and vacant buildings are suitable targets for gang or drug activity. Broken homes are more likely to produce juvenile delinquents due to lack of moral family environment or lack of care from parents. In short, those communities with more access to local resources and with a common goal are more likely to have less crime and will be more open to the concept of community policing. Children who come from homes with loving parents and care are more than likely not to become juvenile delinquents.

Law enforcement officers have been able to map crime and know where the most criminal activity occurs in their respected cities; however, what are they and the citizens of various communities doing to help deter crime? Different measures have been taken to help deter crime in the numerous hot spots throughout the United States. Police patrol, neighborhood watch programs, and informants are all important in helping locate and prevent criminal activity. There has even been talk about monitoring neighborhoods with drones, cameras, and other electronic surveillance.

According to Gordon Hughes, crime prevention is a difficult area to pin down both conceptually and empirically given the different meanings which are historically associated with it (Hughes, 1998). With that being said, it is important for law enforcement officers to very carefully observe the models of crime prevention and determine which method works best for any given area. Crime can have extreme negative impacts on a community’s morale as well as the business growth and development. It causes fear of being victimized by those who frequently purchasing goods in the area, are involved in community activities, and tourism. Preventing crime is not only the responsibility of the police, but also of those citizens who seek a safe, peaceful environment. Learning effective ways to deter crime is the first step to securing and maintaining low crime rates.

One method of crime prevention is deterrence. Deterrence as crime prevention is about giving offenders the calculated reasoning and opportunity not to commit crimes. According to Hughes, this assumption provides the crucial connection between the discourse of prevention and the contemporary thinking of situational crime prevention(Hughes, 1998). There are two types of deterrence. They are general deterrence and specific deterrence. General deterrence is intended to discourage persons other than the offender, from committing a similar offense. In other words, it is directed mainly to the general public and can be used to “make an example out of someone”. Specific deterrence is more focused on the offender rather than the public. Specific deterrence is intended to discourage the offender from recidivism. The law is considered an important factor in shaping people’s behaviors. The threat of punishment can act as a strong deterrent. It’s quite arguable that the consequences of crime are a major factor in reducing criminal activity, and that strong law-enforcement produces a far more law-abiding society than the lack thereof.

Another form of crime prevention is community policing. Community policing is defined as the collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems. With the establishing of community policing, police no longer have to be the sole guardians of law and order. Community policing encourages all citizens of a community to become active in the effort to enhance the safety and quality of their neighborhoods. Community policing has far-reaching implications. The neighborhood patrol officer, backed by the police organization, helps community members mobilize support and resources to solve problems and enhance their quality of life. Community members voice their concerns, contribute advice, and take action to address these concerns. Creating a successful community policing program will require the energy, creativity, understanding, and patience of all of those involved. Community-oriented law enforcement attempts to reduce reliance on the 911 system by dedicating specially trained officers to neighborhood intervention and problem solving(Taylor, 2001).

Another form of crime prevention is physical prevention. The term “physical prevention” is the concept of removing the physical opportunities to commit crime. Police in some jurisdictions started giving out free crime prevention advice relating to locks and bolts while local authorities with substantial public housing stock obtained funding under the government’s Safer Cities program for investment in such things as improved street lighting and surveillance(Lea, 2007). There were some several architectural alterations, too. For example, walkways between blocks of high-rise apartments were removed. This was done to prevent the escape of burglars, thieves, or robbers. Windows were also altered in some apartments so that the individual living there could look out and see the entire courtyard.

Then there is the concept of “social prevention”. Social prevention is intended to strengthen communities and restore informal surveillance and social control of crime(Lea, 2007). This involved citizens of various communities, particularly poor communities, to take a measure of responsibility for their security. The conservative government, from its standpoint of stressing individual responsibilities, tended to think of communities only as groups of individuals, such as residents and house owners concerned with the upkeep of their property. The debate of community groups and the implementation of a crime prevention policy wasn’t a priority at first for such communities. This made the government feel that the police should be the leading agency to protect these poor communities. This lead to law enforcement officers encouraging residents of these areas to take part in what is known today as the “Neighborhood Watch Program”. This program is aimed at recruiting the public to become the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police. The Neighborhood Watch Program involves groups of residents engaging in surveillance of the streets and reporting suspicious activities or strangers in the area to the police.

Parents and other adults should take the time to help and encourage the youth of the neighborhood to either get involved in youth groups or to start one themselves. Certain neighborhood programs for youth such as “The Boys and Girls Club” will help juveniles become more involved with constructive growth and well-being activities rather than being left on the streets with the opportunity to be influenced by drug dealers and other offenders who may try to influence them to commit criminal activity. According to Anika Doggett, children who are rejected by their parents, who grow up in homes with considerable conflict, or who are inadequately supervised are at the greatest risk of becoming delinquent(1996). With that said, it is important for parents to be there for their children and raise them to let them know that criminal misconduct will hurt them in the long-run. Families are one of the strongest socializing forces in life because they have such a strong influence on the child at a very early age. Some families teach children to control unacceptable behavior, to delay gratification, and to respect the rights of others while some families may teach children aggressive, antisocial, and violent behavior.

In conclusion, there will always be crime in today’s society no matter how much law enforcement officers or agencies are cracking down on it. However, there are measures that can be taken that can either significantly reduce crime or it can have no effect and crime rates will continue to increase. It is all about how successful law enforcement officers are able to communicate with each other and with the community to map the crime, determine which areas suffer from the most criminal activity, and which measures work in decreasing crimes rates as well as which methods don’t work. If a certain method does not work, they cannot keep trying it again and again and expecting different results.


Baker, T. (2005) Introductory criminal analysis: crime prevention and strategies: Pearson education Inc.: Upper Saddle River, NJ

Chamard, S. (2006) The history of crime mapping and its use by American Police Departments: http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/forum/23/3fall2006/a_crimemapping.html

Chambers, J.M. & Osgood W.D. (2003) Social Disorganization and Rural Communities: https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/193591/page1.html

Doggett, A. (1996) Juvenile Delinquency and Family Structure: http://facstaff.elon.edu/ajones5/Anika’s%20paper.htm

Hart, T. C. & Zanderburg, P. (2009) Crime Mapping: A journal of research and practice: http://cacs.unlv.edu/CrimeMapping/

Hughes, G. (1998) Understanding crime prevention: Open university press: Buckingham, Philadelphia

Krsulich, L. (2011) Targeting resources and reducing crime through hot spots policing: http://cbkb.org/2011/02/targeting-resources-and-reducing-crime-through-hot-spots-policing/
Lea, J. (2007) Crime Prevention and Community Safety:

Mamalian, C.A. & LaVigne, N.G. (1999) The use of computerized crime mapping by law enforcement: Survey results: http://faculty.uml.edu/jbyrne/44.203/Use%20of%20Computerized%20Crime%20Mapping%20by%20Law%20Enforcement.pdf

Taylor, R. B. (2001) Breaking away from broken windows: Westview press: Boulder, CO

Triplett, A.R. & Gainey, R.R. (2007) Understanding Neighborhoods and Crime: http://ww2.odu.edu/ao/instadv/quest/NeighborhoodsCrime.html

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59