Sunday, March 17, 2013

To Map Or Not To Map: Assessing The Impact Of Crime Maps On Police Officer Perceptions Of Crime

To Map Or Not To Map: Assessing The Impact Of Crime Maps On Police Officer Perceptions Of Crime


            Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology allows the user to utilize computer-mapping systems to spatially analyze data such as crime incidents (Paulsen, 2004).  The purpose of this software is to spatially analyze information from crime incidents in order for policing efforts to put more resources towards higher at risk areas within their jurisdictions.   Law enforcement highly values crime-mapping technology to conduct intelligence-led policing.  Intelligence-led policing gives law enforcement the ability to act more proactively towards criminal activity.  However, to perform intelligence-led policing requires the law enforcement agency to have an accurate understanding of the crime patterns in their jurisdictions and ability to understand what the crime maps inform the officers about hotspots in their jurisdiction (Paulsen, 2004).  Paulsen (2004) conducted an experiment to evaluate the effects of crime maps on officers’ perceptions of crime patterns and how it affected their patrol activities to perform intelligence- led policing.
                To collect data for the experiment Paulsen (2004) utilized a police department from a post of the Kentucky State Police.  The post of the Kentucky State Police agreed to be apart of the researcher’s program called Tactical Mapping and Analysis Program (TMAP), which provided both police executives and patrol officers with up to date crime maps on crime incidents in their jurisdictions.  The goal was for both groups to use the data provided by the crime maps to lead intelligence-led policing efforts to develop proper strategies in which to target current and emerging crime problems.  Crime maps were able to give daily, weekly, and monthly maps with no lag time for officers of the Kentucky State Police (Paulsen, 2004).    
            To determine police perception of crime and if crime maps influenced their intelligence-led policing efforts Paulsen (2004) used a test and control group, along with pre-test and post-test experimental measures.  Prior to beginning TMAP, the 40 officers in the Kentucky Police Department were split into a test and control group and asked pre-test questions that dealt with their background, sources of main crime information, and perceptions of crime patterns within their jurisdictions (Paulsen, 2004).  Additionally, the officers were given a map of their jurisdiction and were asked to label the five most crime ridden areas.  Officers from the test group received daily, monthly, and weekly crime maps for two months.  After two months Paulsen (2004) analyzed if there were any changes to the spatial perceptions of crime by each group of officers with the use of crime maps over a two-month duration.
            The analysis of the experiment expressed that police officers do not have a good understanding of crime patterns within their respected their jurisdictions, with most only able to identify two of the top five highest crime areas in their jurisdiction (Paulsen, 2004).   As compared to the control group who didn’t receive crime maps, those officers who did receive crime maps proved no more accurate than those officers who were not given crime maps over the duration of the two month study to identify the highest area of crime within their jurisdictions (Paulsen, 2004).    


            The study conducted by Paulsen (2004) expressed that intelligence-led policing efforts that utilize the information displayed with crime mapping software does very little to guide intelligence efforts to shape jurisdiction policing strategies if officers are not educated on how to properly use these sources.  Just giving officers crime maps does not give them the analytical skills necessary to interpret what is presented in the crime maps and apply it to intelligence-led policing efforts.  Furthermore, the study suggests that the culture surrounding police officers’ perception of where high-risk crime areas are located is highly engrained in the studied patrol officers’ daily experiences of patrolling and officers demonstrated an unwillingness to acknowledge what the analyzed data of crime maps conveys.  Moreover, it is necessary that police officers are educated on the proper analytical techniques to understand crime maps.  For intelligence-led policing to be effective it must go beyond the officers perceptions of what the real threat is in their jurisdictions and a proper analysis of crime maps will allow officers to be more successful in their intelligence gathering and policing efforts.
            However, even though the study conducted by Paulsen (2004) expressed important implications of the use of crime mapping among patrolling officers and its effect on the successfulness of intelligence-led policing, the results should be taken with some speculation.  The police agency that was used as a sample for this study was mostly in a rural area of Kentucky.  A future study would be needed to determine if crime mapping practices are different in urban areas and if police perceptions of where high crime areas are incorrect in urban areas as well.   Moreover, a larger sample size and pulling officers from different areas of the country would be needed to provide increased support for the outcome of the experiment.  Predominantly, the states in the south of the United States have higher crime rates so it would be interesting to conduct this experiment comparing law enforcement in northern and southern states and their perceptions of where the hotspots of crime are in their respected jurisdictions. 
            Lastly, it is important to affirm that this study did not avow police officers were less effective with their current understanding and utilization of crime maps, or that with crime maps intelligence-led policing increased the effectiveness of the police agency.  However, in terms of the benefits of intelligence-led policing the study delved into the possibility that it is a much-needed intelligence gathering strategy for law enforcement agencies to implement to be able to combat not just current crime issues, but emerging risks in their jurisdictions.  Properly analyzing trends will allow law enforcement agencies with the ability to make crime analysis that is future orientated, the main goal of intelligence gathering allowing for a reduction of uncertainty for law enforcement decision-makers.    


Paulsen, Derek J. (2004). To Map Or Not To Map: Assessing The Impact Of Crime Maps On Police Officer Perceptions of Crime. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 6(4), 234-246.  Retrieved from 


  1. This study was especially interesting in terms of the results, but as you stated, it's scope is too limited to apply the findings across the board at this stage. You rightly pointed out that the methodology of crime mapping had little utility likely due to the fact that the test group was not taught the methodology, rather they merely received the maps. I certainly agree that this would affect the utility of any methodology, I'm particularly surprised by its affect on a GIS methodology as we are constantly taught that most decision makers are visual learners, leading me to believe that even without understanding the entire ideology behind crime mapping, the maps would still prove useful in police perceptions and policing strategies. Do you think it is possible the data used to compose the maps added to the inexpedience of crime mapping in this particular study?

  2. Mk,

    I think that the overall reason why the patrolling officers found that the crime maps proved ineffective was mainly due to the officers' perceptions of where they believed the hot spots in their jurisdiction were. From reading the study the data for the maps did distinguish where the hot spots in the jurisdiction were, but the patrolling officers experiences of where they thought the problem areas in their jurisdiction seemed to trump the crime map analysis. However, the study was done in rural area so I wonder if the results would have been different for a urban setting law enforcement agency, as opposed to a law enforcement agency that operates in a rural setting.