In our various collaborations with researchers and practitioners throughout the world, we learned… realized… from multi-city projects that the spatial dynamics of crime are not the same in different settings, even for similar crime types. Standard patterns of crime cannot be expected across study settings.
Think about this through the analogy of a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope itself represents the particular environment, or study setting, that we are interested in examining (see Figure). The pieces of the kaleidoscope (i.e. the glass and the cylinder) are similar from one time to another. The mechanisms for bringing the pieces together in certain patterns (e.g. gravity, the roundness of the cylinder) operate constantly, and the characteristics of the pieces (color, value) are the same from one turn to another. The patterns that are formed, however, change with different combinations of the pieces. So, it is with crime locations that the shards of glass represent features of that environment, such as bars, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, etc. that could attract illegal behavior and create spatial vulnerabilities. Moving from study setting to study setting represents a turn of the kaleidoscope whereby the pieces come together in different ways, creating unique spatial and situational contexts that have implications for behavior at those places.
Figure: The crime risk kaleidoscope illustrates how unique settings for illegal behavior form within and/or across jurisdictions as pieces come together in different ways, creating unique spatial and situational contexts for crime, as depicted by the triangular or hexagonal outlines in the figure.
When we diagnose the underlying characteristics of “hot spot” areas across jurisdictions, we realize that the characteristics of places where these crime incidents are occurring in each city are very different. As evidenced by this study, detailed in the forthcoming book, Risk Terrain Modeling: Crime Prediction and Risk Reduction (2016; Univ. of Calif. Press), even though crime problems can cluster within cities, the ways in which features of a landscape come together to create unique behavior settings for crime is not necessarily generalizable across cities.
Mindful of the kaleidoscope metaphor, it is not safe to assume that a “standard” response to crime problems will provide similar returns across all environments. This is true for areas within jurisdictions and also across jurisdictions. So one crime problem, such as robberies, will not necessarily respond to a “1-size-fits-all” intervention strategy (even if the strategy worked elsewhere). Behavior settings differ, so interventions need to be tailored accordingly. Risk terrain modeling facilitates this custom analysis of crime problems at various geographic extents.
1. Have clearly defined target areas that are distinctly identified as high-risk.
2. Risk factors in the target area should be clearly identified so the intervention activities can focus on these risks. Let the IPIR inform strategies that tell police what to do when they get to the target areas, not just where to go.
3. Develop strategies for both action and analysis. Risk is dynamic. The very presence of police in an area changes the risk calculation for both motivated offenders and potential victims. Utilize analysts to consider opportunities for tactical applications of intervention strategies – e.g., at specific times or particular places within the target areas. Pull intel from a variety of sources to interpret the relevance of risk factors at risky places and at certain times. Consider the possibility that different policing actions can have the best effects in some places, but not others, depending on the nuances of these places and their situational contexts.
4. Actions that are done in a target area should clearly relate to the intervention strategy directed at specific risk factors.
5. Expect that risk factors may become less risky over time. The risk from landscape features should abate over time as a result of the intervention. For this to be measurable, a clear accounting of what the intervention actions did to reduce risk should be articulated as part of the implementation plan. Routinely reassess the meaningfulness of target areas, risk factors, and intervention strategies – they may need to change along with the dynamic nature of illegal behavior and crime patterns that are responding to the intervention activities.
6. Let the IPIR inform the intervention and the intervention results inform subsequent analyses to better the “next round” of intervention activities. Spatial or temporal lags might result in longer term impacts to lower risk places earlier in the intervention period, while higher risk places may need more time to respond to the point where long-term effects are measurable.
7. Plan interventions so that you can measure outcomes reliably. This is important because you’ll want to be able to repeat the effect next time you respond to a similar problem. That should be the essence of problem-oriented policing and risk management. If crime counts reduced and you can attribute it directly to your intervention activities, then you not only get the credit for success, but you know what to do next time the problem occurs. If your intervention strategy did not have the desired result, then you have a foundation for improving it next time. Once you get it right, you can repeat it.