Why are typologies useful for understanding violent crime patterns?

Crime Typology

When there is a criminal offense made, investigators try to make sense and draw patterns to describe how and why the crime was done. Thus, a crime typology is sort of a system used by criminologists to categorize “offenses using a set of defined characteristics, such as legal categories, offender motivation, victim behavior, situational aspects of the criminal event, and offender peculiarities” (Schmalleger, 2006). Criminologists design crime typologies “primarily to simplify social reality by identifying homogeneous groups of crime behaviors that are different from other clusters of crime behaviors” (Schmalleger, 2006).

Upon making these typologies, criminologists would have an idea of how and why a certain crime has done and they will be able to recommend various proactive measures if they face the same scenarios in the future. Creating a crime typology can sometimes range from being simple to complex. Criminologists usually “focus on either one or several of the following elements: (1) the criminal behavior, (2) offender attributes, (3) victim characteristics, and (4) the situational context” Miethe et al. , 2005).

For criminal behavior, typologies used to determine these are legal-based typologies. According to Miethe et al. (2005), the “crudest legal classification distinguishes between misdemeanor and felony offenses” and the “major distinguishing feature in this scheme is the seriousness of the criminal act, with prison sentences of more than one year being reserved for felony offenses”. Another kind of legal-based typology is judging the crime based on the “source of victimization”. Miethe et al. (2005) noted that there are three general classes of crime are derived from this typology:

  • Crimes against the person, including murder, sexual assault, robbery, and battery.
  • Crimes against property, including burglary, larceny, forgery, embezzlement, and auto theft.
  • Crimes against public order, including disturbing the peace, trespassing, drunkenness, drug use, and prostitution.

However, Miethe et al. (2005) reminded that the “most widely accepted legal typology is the crime classification used in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)”. On the other hand, offender-based typologies classify persons who have the propensity to commit crime.

Researches made by previous experts reveal that physical attributes, criminal histories and their motivations can be factors that are considered. As opposed to offender-based, victim-based typologies focus on their behavioral patterns and their vulnerabilities. Lastly, the situational context-based typologies the physical settings and situations are judged to see if there are key features that make these scenarios places more dangerous than others. Combining these elements can also be helpful assessing the whole criminal event to determine how everything transpired and why the crime has been committed.

In this case, we can say that crime typologies are essential in understanding violent crime patterns because they give investigators the idea of how the crime was in initiated by studying the factors and elements that led the crime from being committed. In fact, some researchers have found violent crime patterns to have subcultural dimensions and social structural dimensions, such as economic inequality and community social disorganization, which might be helpful to completely know how offenders had the motivation to instigate the crime. Also, by simplifying the scenarios of crime by classification, the investigators can study how this particular crime can be mitigated by controlling the factors that help criminals get motivated to commit crime.

For example, dark alleys can be a haven for petty crimes. So, investigators can suggest solutions like installing lamp posts or patrolling the area to make that place safer for more people. However, it should be noted that the usefulness of crime typologies depend on whether there are uniform patterns within and between the major categories. These criminal typologies are not an end-all, be-all solution to obliterate crime. Yet, it can be a good proactive undertaking by criminologists to assess and prevent similar crimes from happening again.


  • Miethe, T. D. , McCorkle, R. C. & Listwan, S. J. (2003). The Anatomy of Dangerous Persons, Places, and Situations, 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury.
  • Schmalleger, F. (2006). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction, 4th ed. NY: Prentice-Hall, Inc.