Monday, February 17, 2014

Crime Patterns, Crime Sprees, and Crime Series

One important job for crime analysts is reviewing crime reports that come into your agency. Every  morning one of the first things I do is review the reports submitted by our officers for the previous day. When I first started as a crime analyst, I was able to review every arrest report and every incident report that came in. Now that the community where I work has grown, the number of crime reports has grown too. However, while I don’t get the opportunity to read each and every report, I do hit all the important ones. 

When I review these reports I’m looking for a number of things. I am looking for reports that may be of concern to my Chief or our city government. I am looking for reports that may indicate an emerging crime threat to the community. Most importantly I am looking for reports that may be related to previous cases. Every report that you get is another piece of information that could help you clear that case. 

There are a number of ways that crimes can be related to each other. Understanding these relationships can help you determine the relevance of these subsequent cases and help you determine a strategy for using the information they contain. Multiple crime reports can document a crime pattern, a crime spree or a crime series. 

The International Association of Crime Analysts has a white paper that standardizes the definitions of these terms. 

“A crime pattern is a group of two or more crimes reported to or discovered by police that are unique because they meet each of the following conditions:

1. They share at least one commonality in the type of crime; behavior of the offenders or victims; characteristics of the offender(s), victims, or targets; property taken; or the locations of occurrence;
 2. There is no known relationship between victim(s) and offender(s) (i.e., stranger-on-stranger crime);
3. The shared commonalities make the set of crimes notable and distinct from other criminal activity occurring within the same general date range;
4. The criminal activity is typically of limited duration, ranging from weeks to months in length; and
5. The set of related crimes is treated as one unit of analysis and is addressed through focused police efforts and tactics.” 

One of the most dramatic types of crime patterns is the crime spree. These sprees are the types of crimes that often make the news. A criminal robs a store, then carjacks someone in the parking lot to obtain a getaway vehicle and soon gets into a vehicle pursuit with police, he crashes the car and then takes someone hostage.  Sprees are a group of crimes committed by the same actor or group over an extremely short period of time. Dramatic, but often one that isn’t terribly worrisome to a crime analyst with the exception of making sure that all the potential crimes and victims are identified so they can be handled appropriately. 

Another type of crime pattern has several different but related definitions. The are Hot Prey, Hot Product, Hot Spot, Hot Place and Hot Setting. They are related in that these crimes all have a similarity whether it is a type of victim, targeted product, proximity, a specific location or environment. Criminals that targets only immigrant families for home invasion robberies would be a Hot Prey. Thieves that target iPhones for theft is a Hot Product pattern. Burglars that targets homes in the same neighborhood is a Hot Spot. A Hot Place may a bar that has numerous assaults, vehicle burglaries in the parking lot and pickpocket thefts. And finally a Hot Setting may be robberies of convenience stores by different offenders. 

One of the most important things and analyst can do is to identify a crime series. These are similar crimes committed by the same offender or group of offenders as part of continuing series of events. What makes the identification of them so important is that if a crime series is identified and analyzed you can often times predict future events in these series with some degree of accuracy. Additionally, by putting all the pieces together from each crime in the series, you can gain a fuller picture of the offender responsible. Regardless of what type of crime pattern you identify, they are important to understand because they each lend themselves to specific tactics deal with them. 

What types of crime patterns have you identified in the reports that come into your agency?

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