Criminology and Conjecture: 5 Theories that Make Sense of Hot Spots

The resources available to law enforcement are limited, and often insubstantial. That’s one aspect of policing you won’t see on CSI, where they have exceedingly expensive equipment and a seemingly infinite pool of personnel to staff every crime scene. Since the recession, there are fewer police offers, scenes of crime officers and other related staff about. It begs the question, then: how do you effectively do more with less? One approach is to prioritise policing, and an effective way of doing so is making use of what are known as crime hot spots.


A little more about hot spots.

Hot spots are hardly novel, and are used by police forces the world over. Simply put, hot spots measure how concentrated crime is in any given area. For instance, a typical police division may cover several rural villages, a town and a city centre. Hot spotting would quickly show where the demands for service were in these areas, where crime is more likely to take place, and how officers could be effectively deployed to combat it.

It is likely that peak crime would be in the city centre, rather than the rural areas; therefore, the police may want to consider that area a priority. Conversely, a crime wave of farm burglaries might make the police focus their patrol pattern there instead. By monitoring the crime hot spots, police commanders can make an informed choice as to how to effectively patrol a given area – whether it’s a street, block, or entire police division.

As hot spots are based on crime statistics, they are open to interpretation — and it’s often said that you can make statistics can be manipulated to make any point. Fortunately, there are five easily-digestible theories that help us make sense of hot spots. These are useful simply because they help us understand why certain crime types are committed in various areas, who the perpetrators are likely to be, and give us an indication of how we can address them.


1. Whereabouts: looking more close at location.

Take a closer look at why certain crime types occur at specific locations. For instance, consider this: why are certain residences often the focus of crime? Fortunately, the availability of  information to police analysis is very detailed at this level – often extending to precisely who resides in dwellings which are crime hot spots, enabling tactical analysis of the people, and crime types, to form an effective strategy to tackle it. A plan to manage problem-individuals can be formed — deterring, detecting and preventing offending. However, management at this level is extremely labour-intensive. As we look at the wider perspectives (below) management of hot spots becomes more practical.


2. Alleys and underpasses: life on the street.

Police analysts can take a slightly wider perspective in developing a patrol plan, extending to the streets which are hot spots. These may include areas that are not residential, but still problematic (e.g. a red light district). Still, tackling crime hot spots by enforcement at this level is only one solution, in a problem which requires multi angled macro-management (see below).


3. Getting to know your neighbourhood.

This manifests an even wider perspective of statistical analysis. Such a perspective aims to answer the questions: why are deprived housing estates often the target of domestic burglaries, whereas rich country locations aren’t? What can we do to tackle the prevalence of high crime types in these areas? For example, would better lighting, CCTV cameras, further patrols or the implementation of a neighbourhood watch scheme help abate the problem? Looking at the place also ties into criminological theory, such as the broken windows theory and social frustration. Creating a nicer environment and more social mobility in these hot spot areas and fostering a sense of community may go a long way to reducing crime.


4. The big city: urban planning and crime.

Plans to tackle crime at the city-level may involve changes in transportation, education provision, welfare or recreational policies. Solving problems at this level involves not only the police, but councils, local communities and even the government. A serious level of urban planning is required, and as you might expect, there is a high cost associated with it.


5. It happened again: repeat victimisation.

Unfortunately, the statistics indicate that once you are a victim, you are more likely to be one again. Some people are vulnerable victims, and are repeatedly targeted by criminals preying on their specific vulnerability. Statistical analysis also demonstrates that most victims of crime are likely to live within three miles of the offender. However, repeat victimisation too can be tackled. Target hardening is one method by which police do this, by addressing the nature of specific vulnerabilities. For instance, individuals on new housing estates are encouraged to have their locks changed, repeat victims of shed burglaries have cameras fitted for a limited time, and doors and windows are made more secure – depending on the crime type, of course.

Interpreting hot spots for patterns of repeat victimisation enable the police and social agencies to ensure that those who are most vulnerable – and most at risk of being exploited are effectively safeguarded.


The good thing about broken windows.

Of course, all of the above is not an absolute science. When observing hot spots, or utilising any other method of crime analysis, one must consider the potential for victim provocation in all of this – sometimes the victims are offenders themselves, and have brought trouble to their own door, or street, through their own handiwork. Although patrolling can combat this, in practice, it is difficult to prevent neighbourhood disputes before they have happened.

Another caveat with hot spots is that they require regular analysis to respond to shifts in offending. It might appear useful to flood the city centre with officers to combat a robbery problem, but when the offenders have been caught and convicted, would their efforts be better focused elsewhere? Hot spot analysis requires regular review to be effective.

It’s considered better to create a friendly, clean and co-operative environment in the first place, in accordance with the broken windows theory. Creating a sense of pride in the community in which individuals live goes a long way to preventing crime hot spots in the first place. Nothing can eradicate crime hot spots entirely, but by analysing them we can create the first step in effective pro-active policing.


Your Turn: What other information can hot spot analysis reveal? Are you interested in other techniques that might be deployed to prevent crime from occurring? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.



Leave a Reply