Social Disorganization Theory

This theory suggests that crime occurs when community relationships and local institutions fail or are absent. For example, a neighborhood with high residential turnover might have more crime than a neighborhood with a stable residential community. Current versions of social disorganization theory assume that strong networks of social relationships prevent crime and delinquency (Kornhauser, 1978; Sampson and Groves, 1989; Bursik and Grasmick, 1993). When most community or neighborhood members are acquainted and on good terms with one another, a substantial portion of the adult population has the potential to influence each child. The larger the network of acquaintances, the greater the community’s capacity for informal surveillance (because residents are easily distinguished from outsiders), for supervision (because acquaintances are willing to intervene when children and juveniles behave unacceptably), and for shaping childrens values and interests. According to the current theory, community characteristics such as poverty and ethnic diversity lead to higher delinquency rates because they interfere with community members’ abilities to work together. More recent studies continue to specify the mechanisms by which structural factors influence the ability' of communities to enforce collective goals (Uchida, Swatt, Solomon, and Verano, 2013). Bursik and Grasmick (1993) present a systemic model that further elaborates on the various linkages between ties and levels of social control. Other current approaches link informal controls with individual expectations and cultural processes (Uchida et al., 2013).

Crime Pattern Theory

Crime pattern theory integrates crime within a geographic context, thus demonstrating how the environments that people live in and pass through influence criminality. The theory specifically focuses on places and the lack of social control or other measures of guardianship that are informally needed to control crime. For example, a suburban neighborhood can become a hot spot for burglaries because some homes have inadequate protection and nobody is home to guard the property. Crime pattern theory is a central component of environmental criminology, and it considers how people and things involved in crime move about in space and time. This theory fits well with the routine activities approach and presents three main concepts: nodes, paths, and edges.

Nodes, a term from transportation, refers to where people travel to and from. Such places can generate crime not only within them, but also nearby'. Each offender searches for crime targets around personal activity' nodes (such as home, school, and entertainment area) and the paths among them. The paths people take in their everyday activities are closely' related to where they fall victim to crime. This is why' crime pattern theory' pays so much attention to the geographical distribution of crime and the daily rhythm of activity. For example, it generates crime maps for different hours of the day' and days of the week, linking crime to commuter flows, school children being let out, bars closing, or any other process that moves people among nodes and along paths.

The third concept of crime pattern theory—edges—refers to the boundaries of areas where people live, work, shop, or seek entertainment. Some crimes are more likely to occur at the edges—such as racial attacks, robberies, or shoplifting—because people from different neighborhoods who do not know each other come together at edges.

In an important way, crime pattern theorists and other environmental criminologists have shown that the design and management of town, city, and business areas can produce major shifts in crime rates.

How Are Hot Spots Identified?

Most experienced police officers who have spent any amount of time working in a city know exactly where the trouble spots are. They know which neighborhoods are likely to report crimes and at which bars and taverns fights and public disorders occur.

Before computers came along, police departments stuck pushpins in maps hung on the wall to better identify where crimes occurred. But today, because of advancing technology, hot spots can be identified using

  • • Maps and GIS
  • • Statistical tests

Maps and Geographic Information Systems

Analysts can create a variety of maps that visualize different aspects of a particular location. Density maps, for example, show where crimes occur without dividing a map into regions or blocks; areas with high concentrations of crime stand out.

It is very common for crime analysts to use GIS to combine street maps, data about crime and public disorder, and data about other features, such as schools, liquor stores, warehouses, and bus stops. The resulting multidimensional maps produce a visual display of the hot spots. The GIS places each crime within a grid system on a map and colors each cell based on how many incidents occurred in that area.

Crime maps that detect high-crime areas are useful when they answer analytical questions based on crime theories and subsequently guide appropriate police action (Eck et al., 2005). For example, if the question has to do with which businesses in the city have been burglarized more than once in the past year, the best answer might come from using a point map which suggests potential tactics that focus on improving place management. In comparison, questions such as, “Which hot streets are characterized by frequent drug deals and prostitution?” would require a street-level (line) map that suggests the possible use of high-visibility patrols on key streets. Finally, if senior police administrators were interested in which police beat had themost amount of crime in the past month, an area (polygon) map would be most appropriate.

Hot spots and high-crime areas can therefore be illustrated using varying levels of geography, such as a specific addresses or intersections, single blocks, clusters of blocks, streets, or neighborhoods (Eck et al., 2005; Paynich and Hill, 2010). Eck et al. (2005) suggest that analysts begin their exploration of hot spots by plotting points before examining larger areas of geography, since maps showing hot streets and areas may hide more minute point-patterns of concentration.

Repeat addresses point maps can be useful for a variety of purposes, such as demonstrating repeat incidents at a single location. However, using single points to represent multiple incidents at the same location would be misleading, as this does not distinguish among locations that have single versus multiple incidents (Chainey and Ratcliffe, 2005; Boba, 2009). Instead, multiple incidents at a single location (repeat addresses) can be represented using graduated symbols or colors (Chainey and Ratcliffe, 2005; Eck et al., 2005; Boba, 2009; Paynich and Hill, 2010), in which differing symbol colors or sizes represent a count or range of values. Many times, these multiple locations are at apartment complexes, shopping complexes, or office buildings. For example, one would expect a large symbol might exist at an address for a large shopping mall, as all of the stores and restaurants share the same address. The analysis would be much better if the analyst could pinpoint the specific locations within these complexes, which would also provide better intelligence for further police action.

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