Saturday, March 16, 2013

Implementing and Integrating Crime Mapping into a Police Intelligence Environment


Digitalization of police records such as crime records and service calls may provide decision makers with important information regarding crimes trends, series, and patterns.  Crime mapping is technique that coordinates and enhances the analysis of crime data already in the possession of law enforcement agencies.  Crime mapping combines multiple intelligence resources to establish a unify structure that improves data analysis at a low cost.  Geographic information system (GIS) assists in the mapping as well as in the geographical analysis of known crime records and service calls.  GIS relies on geocoding, a method that references incident location to be mapped within a GIS.      

One disadvantage of crime mapping is that only does it require a large volume of information in order to be effective, but also the information must be retrieved from police data bases.  In addition, the data must be processed into a format that is acceptable by the GIS.  Often police databases are incompatible with GIS software which also poses difficulties coordinating the data.     

The most common analytical paths of crime mapping include geographical profiling of repeated offenders and mapping of high volume crime.  The figure one depicts the three inputs required for spatial crime analysis; a GIS, crime data, and digital maps.  While serial repeated offender crimes are analyzed by analysts with specialized training related to a certain crime, high volume crimes are analyzed by divisional analysts.                          

Serial crime investigations or criminal profiling assume that offenders commit crimes in area they are most familiar with and away from their home address.  Hence crime mapping is useful to determine the likely area of residence belonging to these offenders.  A specialist analyst is needed to perform the analysis due to the sensitive nature of these offenses.  High volume analysis focuses on local areas or division, demands of this type of analysis varies depending on local crime rates.  This type of crime mapping is restricted to geographical boundaries. 

In UK, crime mapping has been applied to drug incidents, gang violence, and serial rapist investigations.  While crime mapping can assist law enforcement authorities in formulating crime reduction strategies, it is also prone to implementation issues.  Due to the highly technical nature of crime mapping, police department may have to employ skilled IT professionals.  Often these professionals do not understand the user requirements associated with crime mapping.  Thus, of the 52 police forces in the UK, only 23 forces had crime mapping capabilities at the divisional level.  Crime mapping is more effective in a decentralized environment where the user-implementation is more prominent.                        


This article is unique in that it focuses on law enforcement intelligence analysis from a former police officer’s perspective.  Hence, the author is familiar with the subject matter which adds more credibility to the content presented on this article.  Although the author’s focus is on the UK police departments and how crime mapping is likely to be beneficial for them, crime mapping can be utilized as a universal tool to identify crime trends and series in any part of the world.  Crime occurs everywhere to varying degrees.  Crime mapping has the potential to assist decision makers with formulating strategies to combat crime.  Crime mapping can also serve as a visual tool for identifying crime trends and patterns.  A police department with a good budget and enough experts can easily adopt this method.  However, it is likely to be more beneficial for areas with high crime rates.  Serial crimes are rare in occurrence and these crime trends are more easily identified than high volume crime.  I’m unfamiliar with the cost of maintaining this type of analytic tool (GIS), but it may not be worth the money to adopt this technique to analyze serial crimes.   

The author identified a number of advantages and disadvantages to adopting crime mapping as an analytical tool.  Most disadvantages arose from difficulties in processing data before it is entered into the GIS software and having to employ IT professionals to maintain the GIS software.  This article is a bit outdated as it was published in 2000.  It seems crime mapping was in it early stages of development in 2000.  Due to technological advances within the past 13 years, it is likely that crime mapping has become more automated in the early stages of analysis, while the later stages of analysis is conducted by experts.  Also, in recent years most organizations have maintained IT departments.  Therefore, it is safe to assume that police departments may not have to create an IT department just to maintain the software.            

Although GIS software is capable of analyzing data across jurisdictions, I agree with the author in terms of utilizing crime mapping to organize and analyze data at local or divisional levels.   If GIS is used to analyze crime patterns across a number of jurisdictions, the final out put is highly likely to be effected by the amount of communication between police departments and the amount of crime data shared between police departments.  For the past few months, I have learned that in the United States there is a lack of intelligence sharing and lack of communication between agencies in the intelligence community.  Assuming that this is true of law enforcement agencies in the United States, GIS is more beneficial for analyzing local crime data.  However, it is important to emphasize that this is not a limitation in the crime mapping technique, but rather a limitation created by human error.             

Ratcliffe, J. (1999). Implementing and Integrating Crime Mapping into a Police Intelligence environment. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 2(4), 313-323. Retrieved from (2000) Implementing and integrating crime mapping.pdf (2000) Implementing and integrating crime mapping.pdf


  1. With reading both your summary and critique it seems that this was a good source for explaining what crime mapping is and how law enforcement agencies utilize crime mapping as an intelligence gathering tool. By identifying trends it is apparent that the intelligence gathering capabilities of crime mapping can guide strategic, operational, and tactical decision-making levels. In my opinion, I agree with the author that crime mapping is an excellent tool that has improved the capabilities of law enforcement agencies, especially with the push of most law enforcement agencies instituting intelligence-led policing strategies. I assume that crime mapping has become incredibly easier for law enforcement agencies to input data into and analyze presently. I think that the major issue with crime mapping is the analysis of these maps by patrolling officers, who conclude that crime maps contradict where the hot spot areas are that they perceive on a daily basis. It is necessary for patrolling officers to trust what the data conveys even if it might contradict their personal experiences.

  2. I think crime mapping is a highly useful tool throughout the law enforcement community. Its ability to combine multiple intelligence resources at a low cost will become a growing interest to law enforcement as they begin to incorporate intelligence into their daily activities more often. After reading the article it seems like a large issue arises since the information must be retrieved from police data bases making it a large restriction to the many possible advantages of crime mapping. Allowing officers to input data more quickly without fist transferring it to a data base may save time and money. Furthermore, after taking time to look at GIS the difficulty in the ability to transfer data into the program is understandable. After reading about the Crimestat program I posted a summary on, I noticed it is formatted to have the ability to interface with most desktop GIS programs. I think programs such as these to make GIS easier to use, as well as programs that work on software across the board will be an important step in countering this issue.