Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Relationships Between Offenders’ Crime Locations and Different Prior Activity Locations as Recorded in Police Data”, by Curtis-Ham, S.; Bernasco, W.; Medvedev, O. N. and Polaschek, D. L. L. (2022), in which authors carry out an exhaustive study to know more about the patterns of geographical choice of criminals, to discover whether a relationship between them and the offenders’ routines exist.
We know from routine activity theory and crime pattern theory that crimes occur when opportunity (that is, the presence of a suitable and available target) overlaps with offenders’ known locations through their routinary noncriminal activities, such as where they live, work, or socialize with family or friends.
Recent theoretical development suggests that some types of activity locations are more important than others for offenders’ crime location choices. Understanding which they are more likely to choose to commit their crimes has very important implications for crime prevention and investigation. It can help identify high-risk locations and inform the most appropriate risk management strategies. It can also help in geographic profiling for crime investigation.
But, despite the practical importance of being able to predict, at an individual level, where a person will commit a crime, there is little research that empirically explores the extent to which various types of activity locations differ from one another in their influence on crime.
Studies to date have only compared a limited subset of locations (e.g., the offender’s home, homes of family members, or locations of prior offenses). This study leverages a large national dataset of widely disparate locations pertaining to offenders’ pre-crime activities recorded in a police database in a previously unresearched context (New Zealand).
Drawing on environmental psychology, crime pattern theory emphasizes the role of people’s routine activities in generating awareness of criminal opportunities.
First, offenders might identify criminal opportunities more easily and more frequently near their places of activity, called nodes. Qualitative studies have confirmed that home, work, and other places of non-criminal activity have the potential to generate crime opportunity awareness. Recent quantitative studies have estimated the greater likelihood of offenders committing crimes near their homes, the homes of close relatives, and the locations of previous offenses, compared to other locations.
On the other hand, the role of routine activities in generating awareness of criminal opportunities means that the probability of offending tends to be highest near activity nodes and decreases with distance. This pattern of decreasing distance reflects that people are more familiar with areas closer than farther away from their activity locations, and familiarity is an important factor in the choice of crime location.
All this also reflects the principle of least effort: in theory, people travel the shortest distance necessary to find the opportunity to commit a crime.
The main objective of the article is to expand the understanding of how all these associations happen in reality. To do this, data on crimes and nodes of offender activity were collected from the National Intelligence Application (NIA), a New Zealand Police database. The offenses included were all residential and non-residential burglaries, commercial and personal burglaries, and extra-familial sexual offenses committed between 2009 and 2018. In addition, in all of these, an offender was identified with sufficient evidence to proceed against him/her.
The results obtained revealed that almost all nodes were significantly and positively associated with the choice of crime location.
Consistent with expectations based on crime pattern theory, crime was almost always more likely in the surroundings of activity nodes and decreased with distance. Crime near home showed the strongest associations, followed by immediate family homes. This information is especially relevant and novel for nonresidential burglary and extrafamilial sexual offenses.
In addition, it appears that individuals are more likely to offend near immediate family homes versus more distant relatives’ and intimate partners’.
These findings, the authors note, are interesting because they may help to identify more accurately who is more likely to have committed a crime in a particular location, given the nature of the crime.
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