Crime Mapping

V. Future Directions and Challenges in Crime Mapping

On the basis of the current research on the spatial patterns of crime, a number of avenues of research in crime mapping are worth exploring. Obviously, a major focus for future research in this area will be further development and refinement of the tools needed in crime mapping studies. Although not discussed in this research paper, there are substantial methodological and analytic difficulties that remain in crime mapping research. Beyond this, however, there are a number of substantive research avenues in crime mapping that are worth pursuing.

A first avenue of research is the further development and integration of theories of the spatial distribution of crime. Although there have been some efforts at integrating social disorganization and routine activities theories (see Miethe & Meier, 1994), additional work remains. These theories share considerable conceptual overlap, and linking the two should provide a more comprehensive framework for understanding the relationship between crime at the macroand microlevels. Furthermore, the criminal events perspective (Meier, Kennedy, & Sacco, 2001; Sacco & Kennedy, 2002) provides a mechanism to link other theories of criminality with theories of criminal events. To date, the implications of other theories of criminality for understanding the spatial distribution of crime remains unexplored and may provide useful insights into offender search patterns and the selection of targets and locations.

A second area of research that would be very helpful in regard to policymakers is expanding crime mapping to include additional justice agencies. The vast majority of research in crime mapping has used calls for service and crime report data, and most applications of crime mapping have been applied to police decision making. Researchers should consider broadening the scope of crime mapping efforts to incorporate data from other justice agencies. In a practical sense, mapping efforts involving other agencies can provide assistance with managing caseloads and coordinating the distribution of services. For example, mapping the residences of parolees and probationers can help agencies optimize caseloads and improve the process of referring ex-offenders to nearby treatment facilities. In addition, novel data can provide new measures of concepts that are commonly used in geographic research, raise interesting research questions, and possibly introduce new avenues of research.

A third potentially fruitful area of research would involve increased attention to the differences between types of city features and the production of criminal events. As previously discussed, it is well established that certain city features tend to concentrate criminal events in adjacent areas. What remains to be seen, however, is how other spatial and community features contribute to differential spatial patterns of crime. For example, it is not entirely clear why some bars suffer from high levels of crime problems and others do not. Obviously, design features of the location itself should account for some of the differences, but other features, such as the level of community organization, adjacent land usage, and the level of concentration of other crime generators or attractors, may also be important for differentiating between problematic and nonproblematic bars.

A final recommendation for future research on spatial patterns in crime is to further examine the stability of crime in small areas. Specifically, as Weisburd, Bushway, Lum, and Yang (2004) recognized, few studies have examined the degree to which crime in microlevel areas is stable over time. In their study, conducted in Seattle over a 14-year period, Weisburd et al. found that there was a substantial amount of stability in the level of crime on street segments. Despite the high degree of stability in many places, some street segments exhibited either downward or upward crime trajectories. Obviously, additional research is needed to determine whether this pattern holds generally or is specific to the city of Seattle. This type of research will be very helpful in describing the factors that lead to the development, maintenance, and decline of crime in problematic areas.