Policing has evolved from the traditional force-led structures characterized by menacing, uniformed and heavily-armed police officers patrolling the streets looking for criminals to a more intelligence –led affair which makes it possible for police officers to analyze crime data to isolate centres of high crime intensity and even predict, with varying levels of success, spots where crimes are most likely to occur. Modern-day policing professionals understand the need to identify crime hotspots and to focus resources according to the need.
Hotspot policing is now a preferred policing strategy in the UK, USA, and Australia (Ratcliffe, 2004). Crime mapping is key to the prevention and detection of crime, and the proportionate distribution of available resources. Community security can be improved significantly through crime mapping and the proportionate allocation of policing resources. Studies have established that criminals consider the reward and the possibility of apprehension when considering where to commit a crime.
According to the optimal foraging theory, an initial criminal event is closely associated with a series of more events in the same neighbourhood, turning the zone into a crime hotspot or a crime hotspace (Johnson & Bowers, 2004). The mapping of such spots means that police officers can target them, taking into account the time of the day, month or year when crimes are most likely to occur. Even though they may not always arrest criminals in the act, the continued presence of police officers can destabilize criminal gangs.
According to Johnson et al. (2004), a crime may not happen unless a potential offender encounters a potential target in the absence of a guardian. The presence of the police as capable guardians therefore discourages potential criminals. Using information from crime-maps, citizens can improve their own security by avoiding the hotspots, lighting up dark alleys, or patrolling the spots. In the long-run, crime-mapping improves community by giving direction to police and community anti-crime efforts.
Crime mapping can be used to show not only the crime hotspots but also the communities harbouring the criminals. Johnson et al (2004) observes that the residences of potential criminals tend to be clustered in space. Police can thus map probable hide-outs and intensify their watch on such areas and people, thereby creating a sense of fear in potential criminals. Psychologically-beaten criminals are unlikely to commit crimes, even though they may have purposed to. References Johnson, S. & Bowers, K. (2004).
The Stability of Space-Time Clusters of Burglary. The British Journal of Criminology 44(1): pp 55-65. Johnson, S. , Bernasco, W. , Bowers, K. , Elffers, H. , Ratcliffe, J. , Rengert, G. & Townsley, M. (2007). Space-Time Patterns of Risk: A Cross National Assessment of Residential Burglary Victimization. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 23: pp 201-219. Ratcliffe, J. (2004). The Hotspot Matrix: A Framework for the Spatio-Temporal Targeting of Crime Reduction. Police Practice and Research, Vol. 5, No. 1: pp 5-23.