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Evidence-Based Practices and Strategies: Risk Terrain Modeling

Jonas Baughman, Captain, Kansas City Police Department (MO)

Captain Baughman of the Kansas City (MO) Police Department answers the question “What is risk terrain modeling?” and explains how it differs from crime mapping, what resources his agency deploys at high risk areas, and the results he has seen form using risk terrain models.

Simply stated, Risk Terrain Modeling is a spatial diagnosis technique where we try and put a lot of environmental risk factors, as they’re called, on a map. So risk factors are the features of any given landscape, neighborhood, city that these—that you’re trying to address and think where crime may occur. So these can include things such as convenience stores, liquor stores, bus stops, you name it. If you can put it on a map and you think it’s contributing to a crime problem, it can be considered risk factor. And then you map all these risk factors individually and then essentially you smash them all together. And where these risk factors are very close to each other or even in the same place such as at the same intersection, that will give you a higher risk score as it’s called and those are the areas where police want to devote their resources, municipal departments want to devote their resources. Even, you know, community groups, faith-based organizations, anyone that has a vested interest in true public safety.

I think that’s actually one of the advantages, in as much that these Risk Terrain Models as they’re called, you don’t have to include any crime data, no arrest data, no calls for service data, it’s all environmentally based. So if you’re to literally hop in a police car and drive to—yes, it may be a high crime area, but you’re stopping at an intersection, take a look around, again those convenient stores, bus stops, but it could be anything, libraries, parks, fast food restaurants, again, anything you can put on a map. So you don’t have to know where crime has occurred so—because again it’s more of a diagnostic prevention and dare I say forecasting tool.

We use a lot of different of our resources. Some are very traditional, so yes, even though it’s very much a crime prevention tool, what we’re trying to do is get away from just appear, you know, car checks, pedestrian checks, which if we find someone offending in one our focus areas as they’re called, yes, we’ll enforce the law, you know, and whether it’s taking a person into custody, whatever the case may be. But again we’re trying to be more preventive as well. So we have social workers for example. Our chief of police brought social workers on a few years ago. We can embed them into these high-risk areas as well to see if there are challenged families, for example, that may need some help. We have community interaction officers, they can make more outreach with business owners, community groups to see what they feel was driving risk in their areas.

As for some of the results we’ve seen with this current project deploying RTM, we’re very happy to report that we have 12 focus areas, as we call them, focusing on violent crime and all 12 are seeing reductions in the target crimes of homicide, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and strong arm robbery. The percentages vary from about, you know, six percent but some are in the fifty percent range as well. But in virtue of keeping a true, you know, rigorous application of this we have some control areas as well. Three of those four areas have actually shown crime increases for those same categories and one is completely flat. So we are very confident overall that what we’re doing is in fact making a difference and down the road we hope to continue to bring more academic rigor to the analysis to make sure that what we’re doing in these specific focus areas is in fact gaining the results we want.

Date Created: March 25, 2020