Crime is not a random event. Criminological research suggests that certain psychological, social, or economic characteristics are associated with higher levels of criminal involvement. Furthermore, particular lifestyles and patterns of activity place individuals at a heightened risk for victimization. Crime fluctuates temporally as well: More crimes occur in the evening as opposed to the morning, on weekends as opposed to weekdays, and in summer months as opposed to winter months. It comes as no surprise that spatial patterns of crime exist as well. For example, Sherman and colleagues (Sherman, Gartin, & Buerger, 1989) found that approximately 50% of calls for service came from approximately 3% of addresses in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Crime mapping is the process through which crime analysts and researchers use location information about crime events to detect spatial patterns in criminal activity. Early crime mapping efforts typically involved placing physical markers, such as pins, on maps to designate the locations where crimes occurred. Patterns of criminal activity were determined primarily through visual inspection of these maps. With the advances in computing, geographic information system (GIS) software, such as MapInfo and ArcGIS, enables researchers to convert geographic information (addresses or global positioning system [GPS] coordinates) into coordinates used with virtual maps. Researchers and crime analysts can then use a number of analytic software packages to examine and detect patterns of criminal activity from these virtual maps.
This research paper is designed to offer an overview of the field of crime mapping. First, the history of crime mapping is briefly discussed. After this, a brief overview of several theoretical perspectives that have been used to understand the spatial patterns of crime is provided. Following this, some of the major findings in spatial crime analyses are discussed, particularly in regard to the relevance of implementation strategies designed to combat crime. The research paper concludes with recommendations for future directions in crime mapping research.