Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Crossing the Borders of Crime: Factors Influencing the Utility and Practicality of Interjurisdictional Crime Mapping

John Eck's article Crossing the Borders of Crime: Factors Influencing the Utility and Practicality of Interjurisdictional Crime Mapping provides a look into five different categories of factors that influence the utility of crime mapping, particularly Cross Boundary Crime Mapping Systems (CBCMS). These categories are action, patterns, data, administration, and access, and are listed in descending importance according to the author (Eck 2002, p.3). The article reviews factors that affect the utility of inter-jurisdictional crime mapping specifically but many of these factors affect the utility of crime mapping as a methodology in general.

Crime mapping has grown as a methodology employed by a large number of law enforcement agencies especially as technology has developed further to increase capabilities while lowering expense. Like all methodologies, crime mapping relies on certain factors to be useful. Eck identifies five categories and the specific factors involved that determine the utility of crime mapping, particularly in terms of CBCMS. The first category, action, asks what will agencies use the information from the CBCMS for and will they take action to address the crime patterns they discover? Crime mapping and particularly CBCMS are of little utility if agencies never act on the results, which Eck (2002) points is all too common (p.4).

The patterns category identified by Eck is most applicable to CBCMS, with little influence on the utility of crime mapping in general because patterns fall into the categories of no pattern, no shared pattern, shared patterns, shared boundary problems, barrier borders, attracting borders, pseudo barriers, and common problems. While no patterns would prove crime mapping in any case rather useless, the pattern or lack thereof can only be determined after crime mapping is performed.

Data, on the other hand, has many factors that affect the utility of crime mapping in any situation, given that any methodology will fail if data is inaccurate or irrelevant. Data used in crime mapping must include information describing specific locations, incident types, and dates of occurrence (Eck 2002, p.2). This data is affected by citizens reporting, agency recording, event classification, descriptive information, and geocoding. Almost all of these can be attributed to human error.

The final two categories, administration and data dissemination, are closely related and rely on who decides how and when information is shared. While this seems most applicable to CBCMS, who governs crime mapping within a single agency will still affect its utility and application.

While Eck's article falls lower on the Pyramid of Evidence (refer to Source and Methods), his article is important in understand the utility of crime mapping as a methodology, particularly in the law enforcement intelligence field. As stated before, while his intent was to identify those factors affecting the utility of CBCMS, factors such as data accuracy and action taken upon results certainly affect the value of crime mapping more generally. The article would be strengthened with case study or experimental results, however, the jurisdictional mapping examples provided strengthen the patterns sections significantly.

In terms of the methodology itself, crime mapping is heavily reliant on analysts avoiding common human errors, some of which are not within their control. For instance, a crime analyst cannot easily affect the frequency that citizens report crimes. Additionally, crime maps that only include arrest data as opposed to incident data will be greatly skewed to where agencies have the most manpower, not necessarily the areas with the most crime. Aside from data, crime mapping, like many other methodologies, suffers when its results go unused. If crime mapping is performed strictly to identify locations of past crimes without anyone using the results to predict future crime or other methods of addressing the underlying problem, the methodology is of little utility in the intelligence field.

Eck, J. (2002, January). Crossing the Borders of Crime: Factors Influencing the Utility and Practicality of Interjurisdictional Crime Mapping. Overcoming the Barriers: Crime mapping in the 21st Century. Retrieved from http://www.policefoundation.org/sites/pftest1.drupalgardens.com/files/Eck%20(2002)%20-%20Crossing%20the%20Borders%20of%20Crime.pdf 


  1. MK - I agree with you on the point that the use of crime mapping is not extremely useful in the intelligence field. Though, I think that it is a useful tool to build a base understanding and visual representation of crimes or key events. From that point there would need to be an additional level of analysis that is employed in order to make a significant and meaningful analysis.

    I thought it was interesting that the author noted the issue of determining which agency is responsible for certain areas. As we have seen in numerous courses and incidents, the dissemination and disclosure of information between agencies, in the intelligence community, is difficult to come across. I agree that crime mapping is not the ideal tool for intelligence analysis, but it does seem to provide a decent base of information to conduct further analysis

  2. I do agree that with crime mapping it can be affected by human error that is usually not in their control, like you said the percentage of crimes that citizens report to law enforcement agencies. Moreover, crime mapping relies on arrest data as opposed to including data on incidents as well. I think that it would be useful for crime mapping to include somehow incident data as well. By including incident data might allow crime mapping to have a more predictive element, allowing for a more beneficial role as an intelligence function. However, I think crime mapping can be an effective tool for law enforcement agencies, especially with the push to perform intelligence-led policing strategies. Crime mapping can allow some proactive policing that is more efficient to responding after crime has occurred.

  3. Nick, you are correct about crime mapping utilizing solely arrest data is a huge issue for law enforcement, however many agencies use different sets of data, some mapping every call, others only incidents that lead to formal reports. It is up to the specific force to determine which data is best for their purposes. However, as the author points out, this makes sharing maps and data across jurisdictions much harder if you are attempting to share with a force that uses incompatible data.