Friday, June 22, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step - 16 Study The Journey To Crime

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

We've been looking at the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post we'll cover Step - 16 Study The Journey To Crime . I must admit I'm kind of on the fence about this step. Essentially the authors are saying that people generally travel in or occupy three areas, their home, their work and their place of recreation. They also theorize that the crimes they commit are ordinarily in an area that intersects these areas or the routes between them.
The concept of activity spaces is central to crime pattern theory, which was developed by the Canadian environmental criminologists Pat and Paul Brantingham (see figure). They use the concept to describe how offenders find targets in the course of their daily routines. Starting with a triangle, they consider offenders going from home to work to recreation. Around each of these three nodes and along each of these three paths(excepting a buffer zone where they might be recognized) offenders look around for crime opportunities. They may find these a little way off the path, but they usually do not go far beyond the area they know. This is because it is easier to commit crimes in the course of their daily routine than by making a special journey to do so. Source:Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
My problem with this is that I think it's kind of over generalizing. It'd be kind of like saying criminals will only commit crimes where they are located at the time the crime is committed. You get the idea from the article that criminals operating areas are small and adjacent to where they live, work or play. However, in the city where I work, we see burglars who are very mobile and traveling throughout the city to various residential neighborhoods to commit burglaries. While juvenile burglars who lack access to vehicles may only prowl their own neighborhoods, the older burglars in vehicles will often prowl large swaths of the city looking for suitable targets.

For this theory to be relevant in most mid-sized American cities, you may need to open up your idea about criminal's operational area. I work for a city with a population of around 100,000 that covers an area of about 54 square miles. There is a smaller neighboring city that shares a common border with ours while the other sizable cities in our county are about 10 to 20 miles away. If we think of our burglars area of operation as our city and maybe even the adjacent city, the author's theory probably holds water. The cities 10-20 miles away are usually not in our crooks area of operation. Several of the quotes in Step 16, attribute a very short average distance journey to crime such as 1 to 2 miles though one example has a parenthetical caveat that states:
In most U.S. studies the journeys might be a little longer because of lower population densities and greater access to vehicles. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
None of this is to say that Step 16 is irrelevant, in fact there are quite a number of good points made about the study of the Journey To Crime. I do think that the article gives the idea by implication that a criminal's area of operation is much smaller than it probably is in real life.

Next, time we'll cover Step 17 - Know How Hot Spots Develop.

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