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What is Crime Mapping and How Can it Solve Cases

Law enforcement agencies utilize crime mapping to help map, visualize, and analyze crime incident patterns. Operating under the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), crime mapping can be used to help police departments in reducing crime through a better-informed awareness of their surrounding area. With this streamlined organization of information, law enforcement management are able to formulate strategies in crime prevention, target resources, and gain a better understanding as to why certain patterns occur.

While technology has certainly aided in the development and ability of crime mapping, it is a practice that predates any computer. New York City’s Police Department has traced the use of maps at least as far back as 1900, with law enforcement using an enlarged representation of a jurisdiction with pins stuck in it. While this approach served as a beneficial resource at the time, the static nature of this format (and the advance of technology) led way to desktop computer mapping in the mid-1980s. This process now allowed individuals to reap the benefits of crime mapping with greater precision and with much less hassle.

Crime mapping is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. While a map most evidently demonstrates the location of criminal activity, it can also provide key information that suggests a theme or underlying trend to a topic. Investigators are able to view, for example, homicide victims by unordered categories such as race, sex, and age.

Crime tends to be influenced by a variety of conditions. Crime mapping is also useful in helping to illustrate and differentiate these causes and geographical conditions. For instance, some areas in cities, suburbs, or rural areas have persistently high crime rates – with this in mind, certain neighborhoods may have a permanent expectation for criminal activity.

Patrol officers benefit greatly from crime mapping. As professionals who spend a great deal of their duty on the street, they are able to reap the benefits of having up-to-date and comprehensive data related to their patrol areas. Using the information culled from this system, patrol officers are able to spot trends in their area, gain a better understanding of activity that has occurred during previous shifts, and develop a more global, macro view of significant developments that occur in outstanding cases.

Examples of crime mapping’s effectiveness are easily cited. For instance, in a McLean County, Illinois, case that involved rural burglaries, a crime mapping system was used to plot incidents on a country map. The data revealed that all of the reported incidents occurred close to major highways. That information led law enforcement officials to suggest the involvement of traveling criminal groups that specialized in burglaries. The findings also showed that these crimes occurred near cemeteries, which were thought to be lookout places. As a result, more patrols were placed in these areas, which eventually led to the arrest of members of a group called the Irish Travelers. Following the arrest, officials saw a sharp decline of burglaries in the area.