Crime Mapping: Spatial and Temporal Challenges

  • Jerry Ratcliffe


Crime opportunities are neither uniformly nor randomly organized in space and time. As a result, crime mappers can unlock these spatial patterns and strive for a better theoretical understanding of the role of geography and opportunity, as well as enabling practical crime prevention solutions that are tailored to specific places. The evolution of crime mapping has heralded a new era in spatial criminology, and a re-emergence of the importance of place as one of the cornerstones essential to an understanding of crime and criminality. While early criminological inquiry in France and Britain had a spatial component, much of mainstream criminology for the last century has labored to explain criminality from a dispositional perspective, trying to explain why a particular offender or group has a propensity to commit crime. This traditional perspective resulted in criminologists focusing on individuals or on communities where the community extended from the neighborhood to larger aggregations (Weisburd et al. 2004). Even when the results lacked ambiguity, the findings often lacked policy relevance. However, crime mapping has revived interest and reshaped many criminologists appreciation for the importance of local geography as a determinant of crime that may be as important as criminal motivation. Between the individual and large urban areas (such as cities and regions) lies a spatial scale where crime varies considerably and does so at a frame of reference that is often amenable to localized crime prevention techniques. For example, without the opportunity afforded by enabling environmental weaknesses, such as poorly lit streets, lack of protective surveillance, or obvious victims (such as overtly wealthy tourists or unsecured vehicles), many offenders would not be as encouraged to commit crime.


Crime Prevention Location Quotient Repeat Victimization Crime Problem Modifiable Areal Unit Problem 



The author would like to thank the Philadelphia Police Department for continued support and provision of data over many years, and Ralph B. Taylor, Martin Andresen, Shane Johnson, George Rengert, Liz Groff and Travis Taniguchi for comments on an earlier draft of this chapter; however, opinions, omissions and errors remain firmly the fault of the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jerry Ratcliffe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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