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Geography, Spatial Analytics and Technology: NIJ's Mapping and Analysis

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National Institute of Justice Journal
Date Published
June 21, 2012

Crime mapping sits at the nexus of geography, social science and a variety of other disciplines. Analysts map crime using geographic data, conduct analysis and report the results using cartographic products. By combining an array of data with cartographic techniques and statistical methods, analysts can find solutions to complex social issues. Crime mapping can suggest ways to better deploy law enforcement officers, use public safety resources more efficiently, devise stronger crime-prevention techniques and obtain greater insight into crime.

The Evolution of Crime Mapping at NIJ

NIJ's initial crime mapping endeavors resulted in the creation of the Crime Mapping Research Center, which focused on spreading the use of computerized mapping and surveyed police departments to learn how they were using analytic mapping techniques. NIJ found that law enforcement officers had a significant interest in understanding how geospatial tools and geography could help reduce and prevent crime. NIJ also determined that training would help law enforcement make better use of tools that collect and use geographic information. This led to NIJ's supporting geographic information system (GIS) training programs to teach law enforcement officers how to capture, analyze, store and present spatial data. GIS allows users to examine how geography affects crime, as well as other topics, including urban planning, emergency services and home foreclosures.

In 2002, the Crime Mapping Research Center evolved into the Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety (MAPS) program, which focused on mapping tools and the use of spatial analysis techniques. Four years later, MAPS shifted its focus to emphasize place-based theories while still helping agencies use GIS to enhance public safety.

MAPS Research

NIJ’s MAPS program funds research that uses GIS technologies to statistically analyze spatial data, which leads to a better understanding of crime, more effective deployment of police and use of public safety resources, and stronger crime policies.

The fiscal year 2012 MAPS solicitation contained both theoretical and applied research approaches. Specifically, the solicitation sought proposals for research on how micro-place and micro-time strategies (e.g., risk-terrain modeling, CompStat programs and hot spot tactical deployment) are informed, supported or enhanced by criminological theory.

Past NIJ research has produced:

  • CrimeStat, a spatial statistical program used to analyze crime locations and hot spots
  • An iOS and Droid technology-based crime mapping application developed to help law enforcement officers understand spatial and temporal crime patterns
  • A mobile application that uses semiautomated 3D geocoding of Large Urban Structures (e.g., buildings, hallways, elevators and stairways) to deploy effective emergency response and communication

NIJ's MAPS program is currently conducting intramural research on grid cell sizes and a multimethod exploration of hot spot techniques.

Date Published: June 21, 2012