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Rural and Remote Policing  

Rick Ruddell

Although many city residents think of life in the countryside as peaceful, there are rural and remote communities with very high crime rates. In addition, some rural populations, such as Indigenous peoples and women, are at higher risk of victimization than their urban counterparts. Regardless of where one lives, levels of crime in the countryside and the formal and informal responses to those acts—including policing—have been shaped by a series of historical, political, geographic, economic, and demographic factors, and many of those factors are interconnected. Rural crime is further distinctive as some offenses, including illegal hunting (poaching) or environmental crimes, rarely occur in cities. Moreover, responses to those acts may be carried out by military organizations, nonpolice authorities, and police officers. The involvement of these quasi-police organizations in responding to rural crime is increasing in some nations. Rural is defined in this entry as a community or place with fewer than 2,500 residents located at least 30 miles from the nearest metropolitan area. Despite recognizing that crime in the countryside is unlike what occurs in cities, there has been comparatively little scholarship on rural or remote policing. Instead, most police research is conducted and disseminated by urban researchers—what some call an urban-centric focus—and as a result knowledge about rural policing is underdeveloped. There has been even less scholarship focusing on policing remote communities, and that is a significant limitation given the distinctive patterns of crime in some of these places. Although policymakers have developed a diverse range of interventions to respond to antisocial behavior, disorder, and crime in rural and remote jurisdictions, the people in these places have a common expectation: They want the same quality of policing city residents receive. The nature of rural policing, however, makes that a very difficult goal to achieve, as officers are often stretched thin and work in more dangerous conditions than their urban counterparts. Rural officers are also expected to respond to every conceivable call for service even though they often work alone and have limited backup. This is because many stand-alone rural police services are cash strapped as they draw from sparsely populated or impoverished tax bases. Inadequate funding also limits their ability to recruit officer candidates and inhibits the sophistication of investigations, opportunities for officer training, officer retention, and the ability to provide safe working conditions for their personnel. Four issues are of key importance to understanding rural and remote policing: (a) Rural crime differs from urban crime, and in some jurisdictions, the volume of crime is similar to (or greater than) city crime rates, although the nature of crime differs (e.g., some types of crimes occur more often in rural places); (b) rural officers carry out their day-to-day duties in a distinctively different manner than municipal officers; (c) the informal and formal expectations for rural officers are higher than their counterparts working in urban areas; and (d) the challenges of rural policing are magnified in remote locations.


Crime Mapping and Policing  

Lisa Tompson

The empirical truism that crime clusters geographically has increasingly informed police practice in the first two decades of the 21st century. This has been greatly aided by crime mapping, which can be thought of as a summary term for the geographic analysis of data related to crime and disorder. Crime analysts use a range of mapping techniques to describe and explain patterns in data, being mindful of the unique qualities of geographically referenced data. These include point pattern maps, thematic maps, kernel density estimation, and GI* statistic maps. Rate maps are also used when the aim is to understand the risk of victimization. Crime maps can be used to identify hot spots for targeted action, identify recently committed crimes that might form part of a linked series, monitor the impact of police initiatives, and aid understanding of crime problems. Environmental criminology theory is often used for the latter of these purposes, as this can explain spatiotemporal patterns revealed through crime mapping and assists in understanding the mechanisms driving the patterns. The logic for organizing police efforts around geographical crime concentration is instinctive: by focusing on a small number of locations with high crime volumes, police can be more focused and hence effective. Thus, “hot spots policing” has become business as usual in many jurisdictions, focusing attention at small units of geography. Hot spot policing has, in many countries in the early 21st century, evolved into “predictive policing,” which is a data-driven crime forecasting approach. However, this approach has attracted strong criticism for further entrenching bias in the criminal justice system. Critics argue that the data sets on which the predictive policing algorithms are founded are racially biased and perpetuate police attention on communities of color. This serves to highlight the systematic biases that can be present in crime-related data, and professional crime analysts use a range of approaches to mitigate such biases, such as triangulating data sources.


Crime Hot Spots  

David Weisburd and Sean Wire

Hot spots of crime, and the criminology of place more generally, deviate from the traditional paradigm of criminology, in which the primary assumption and goal is to explain who is likely to commit crime and their motivations, and to explore interventions aimed at reducing individual criminality. Alternatively, crime hot spots account for the “where” of crime, specifically referring to the concentration of crime in small geographic areas. The criminology of place demands a rethinking in regard to how we understand the crime problem and offers alternate ways to predict, explain, and prevent crime. While place, as large geographic units, has been important since the inception of criminology as a discipline, research examining crime concentrations at a micro-geographic level has only recently begun to be developed. This approach has been facilitated by improvements to data availability, technology, and the understanding of crime as a function of the environment. The new crime and place paradigm is rooted in the past three decades of criminological research centered on routine activity theory, crime concentrations, and hot spots policing. The focus on crime hot spots has led to several core empirical findings. First, crime is meaningfully concentrated, such that a large proportion of crime events occur at relatively few places within larger geographies like cities. This may be termed the law of crime concentration at places (see Weisburd, 2015). Additionally, most hot spots of crime are stable over time, and thus present promising opportunities for crime prevention. Crime hot spots vary within higher geographic units, suggesting both that there is a loss of information at higher levels of aggregation and that there are clear “micro communities” within the larger conceptualization of a neighborhood. Finally, crime at place is predictable, which is important for being able to understand why crime is concentrated in one place and not another, as well as to develop crime prevention strategies. These empirical characteristics of crime hot spots have led to the development of successful police interventions to reduce crime. These interventions are generally termed hot spots policing.