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Research on Offender Decision-Making Using Geo-Narratives

Date Published
June 8, 2014

Crime varies across neighborhoods as well as within neighborhoods. Indeed, even within relatively high-crime neighborhoods, illicit behavior tends to be concentrated in certain spots — referred to as “hot spots.” Although a wealth of research has investigated the effectiveness of hot spot policing, little is known about why crime is concentrated in certain areas. Researchers from Kent State University are conducting a study that draws on theory and research on the geography of crime, environmental criminology and offender decision-making to better understand how place and space shape crime patterns.

Theory and research suggest that both opportunity and rational choice play key roles in shaping the spatial distribution and specific targets of crime. In a sense, crime hot spots can be conceptualized as the culmination of several factors, one of which is the decision-making processes of offenders. For example, burglars may gravitate toward certain homes due to the perceived attractiveness of goods inside or perceived accessibility. Drug dealers may choose street corners that are rarely patrolled or that they perceive as being particularly promising due to high foot traffic of would-be users. The Kent State researchers propose that criminal events often result at least in part from decisions on the part of offenders and that such decisions, and resulting events, are inexorably tied to the physical environment.

The project contextualizes the geography of crime by linking individuals’ neighborhood perceptions with targeted spatial video. Specifically, the researchers will draw on interview data with ex-offenders, law enforcement and other residents obtained during ride-alongs in high-crime neighborhoods. Spatial video will be used simultaneously to record the visual surroundings and the precise locations of points of interest. In other words, participants will provide their open-ended perceptions of neighborhood surroundings, and video cameras with internal GPS units will allow the researchers to link this commentary with spatial crime data and visual footage. These geo-narratives, or “crime insight maps,” will allow the researchers to address several questions:

  • How do factors in the “built environment” influence criminal events?
  • How consistent are perceptions of spatial crime patterns and official data?
  • Do these crime insight maps reveal environmental signatures that can be useful for explaining and predicting crime patterns in other neighborhoods?

Kent State University, NIJ grant 2013-R2-CX-0004.

Date Published: June 8, 2014