Geography has a major influence on crime. The features and characteristics of cityscapes and rural landscapes can make it easier or more difficult for crime to occur. The placement of alleys, buildings and open spaces, for example, affects the likelihood that a criminal will strike.
Combining geographic data with police report data and then displaying the information on a map is an effective way to analyze where, how and why crime occurs.
Computerized crime maps became more commonplace with the introduction of desktop computing and software programs called Geographic Information Systems (GIS) . Analysts map where crime occurs, combine the resulting visual display with other geographic data (such as location of schools, parks and industrial complexes), analyze and investigate the causes of crime, and develop responses. Recent advances in statistical analysis make it possible to add more geographic and social dimensions to the analysis.
NIJ's Role in Mapping
NIJ's Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety (MAPS) program supports research that helps agencies use GIS to enhance public safety. The program examines:
- How to use maps to analyze crime.
- How to analyze spatial data.
- How maps can help researchers evaluate programs and policies.
- How to develop mapping, data sharing and spatial analysis tools.
NIJ established the Crime Mapping Research Center (CMRC) in 1997, using funds from the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1996. The center surveyed police departments to determine how they used analytic mapping in policing and began developing training programs to enhance departments' ability to use spatial maps and data sets. In 2002, CMRC evolved into NIJ's MAPS program.
The MAPS program funds research that uses GIS, statistical analysis and analysis of spatial data to lead to:
- More effective deployment of police.
- Better use of public safety resources.
- Stronger crime policies.
- Greater understanding of crime.