The COVID-19 pandemic and response measures, such as school and work closures, has altered the routine activities of many people. It has also created new high demands for retail goods that are sold-out or in short supply at particular types of businesses. This creates new and uncommon interactions among people at places that could result in different opportunities for crime than what cities/towns are used to from past experience. The Modus Operandi and situational contexts of crime are likely to change too as a result.
Some types of crimes are probably more likely to increase, or decrease, compared to others. Whether police calls-for-service and/or crime rates ultimately increase or decrease is still to be systematically studied. Regardless of the frequency of crime incidents, the current pandemic situation is likely to alter the spatial and temporal patterns of crime.
Hotspots of last month, or this time last year, are not likely to be the same as, nor predictive of, current crime locations. Under normal circumstances, hotspot maps can be predictive and actionable for interventions when crimes and their situational contexts remain stable. But, things are different now -- with routine activities, opportunities, situational contexts, and places of crime changing drastically from historical observations and experiences.
Minimizing uncertainty in the face of emerging or persistent crime patterns provides an effective response to these challenges. Diagnosing emerging crime trends, as well as existing persistent hotspots, helps to minimize uncertainty about observed outcomes. For instance, whereas the environmental backcloth for robberies in the recent past might have related to well-known attractors/generators, emerging patterns may differ because they connect to different environmental features that are more relevant to the contemporary situational contexts of crimes (or opportunities for offending).
The Rutgers Center on Public Security (at Rutgers University) has made risk terrain modeling (RTM) easily accessible through the RTMDx software to conduct analyses that diagnose environmental conditions for crime. This diagnosis produces actionable information to help police and other community stakeholders understand emerging problems and respond in ways that “flatten the curve” of crime trends before they get out of control.
RTMDx is available for free to any public safety agency that wants to use it for actionable intel during these uncommon times. Go to www.rtmdx.gratis for access.
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