maps potential for criminal activity
In a less ominous version of Minority Report, a CSUS professor has
found a way to help police officers predict who might commit what
sort of crimes and where.
Criminal justice professor Donald Dixon, a former crime analyst
for the Dallas Police Department, studied five years of arrest data
for violent juvenile crime in Dallas. He found that when he combined
modern crime mapping techniques and with low-tech, readily accessible
census data, he was able to pinpoint not only where criminal activity
was occurring but possible underlying causes. He studied areas where
the offenses were happening, where the offenders live and where
the victims live.
“I wanted to identify neighborhoods where violent juvenile
crime was likely to occur but I was most interested in what it is
about an area that may contribute to behavior,” Dixon says.
“Working with the police department, I constantly got inquiries
from people who wanted information about crime rates by zip code.
But that information is meaningless because zip codes are arbitrarily
configured and have no relationship to any idea of ‘community.’
“When juveniles live in an area long enough they’re
influenced by the neighborhood – the same schools, the same
peers. They’re not influenced by artificial boundaries like
Dixon mapped five years worth of juvenile arrests for violent crime
in the city of Dallas and identified “hot spots” where
the worst concentrations of this type of crime were found. Of the
3,600 arrests within those five years, one-sixth of the arrests
were in just four neighborhoods which comprised less than two percent
of the city’s geographic size. “They were that concentrated,”
He then compared the hot spots with data from the most recent census
– number of households, number of people in the family, males
vs. females, race, etc. Among the findings was that the two biggest
hot spots differed in their racial makeup and the types of violent
crimes that the juvenile offenders were committing. Both of these
issues have implications for police officers working in the area.
“If I’m a good community-oriented policing police officer,
I would want to know what it is about these kids that makes them
likely to commit the offenses they are committing. From there I
know what to do to plan an intervention,” he says.
Dixon found elements that emerged – such as income, number
of two-parent households and education level – seemed to confirm
what criminal justice professionals have long believed to be potential
predictors of criminal activity. In the hot spots he found, for
example, 49 percent of the residents had stopped their education
at high school.
“That’s not a surprise but this is a new way of looking
at it. I was able to pinpoint these areas with precision,”
Dixon says. ”I now have a lot more confidence in previous
Crime mapping has become increasingly common nationwide. The Sacramento
Police Department, for example, has a mapping program on its website
that allows citizens see the location and type of crimes committed
in a neighborhood such as Campus Commons or Midtown over a three-month
Other characteristics of the Dallas neighborhoods that also seemed
to play a role were the presence, or absence, of parks, churches,
liquor stores and bars. Hot spots tended to be near liquor stores
and bars, Dixon says, which in Dallas are highly concentrated. They
tended to not be near parks and churches.
Dixon plans to do follow-up work on adult crime and expects some
of the same topics to arise. “Home ownership, education level,
income are issues these kids are facing,” he says. “When
I look at the adults, I will probably see an overlap.”
He is also interested in replicating this research in the Sacramento-Northern