U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Understanding Developmental Crime Trajectories at Places: Social Disorganization and Opportunity Perspectives at Micro Units of Geography, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2009
21 pages
This report examines "criminology of place" suggesting the importance of "micro" places (e.g. addresses, street segments, and clusters of street segments) in understanding and controlling crime and that crime problems begin not with the people who commit crime but with the "micro" places where crimes are committed.
Individuals and communities have traditionally been the focus of criminological research, but recently criminologists have begun to explore the importance of "micro" places in understanding and controlling crime. Research provides strong evidence that crime is strongly clustered at "hot spots" and that there are important developmental trends of crime at place, but little is known about the geographic distribution of these patterns or the specific correlates of crime at this micro level of geography. The author's question concerns whether social disorganization and opportunity measures vary across micro units of geography, and whether they are clustered, like crime, into "hot spots." Using group-based trajectory modeling to identify eight broad developmental patterns across street segments in Seattle, the findings in this regard follow an earlier NIJ study that identified distinct developmental trends (e.g. high increasing and high decreasing patterns) while noting the overall stability of crime trends for the majority of street segments in Seattle. Examination of the geography of the developmental crime patterns observed, the authors find evidence of strong heterogeneity of trajectory patterns at street segments with the presence of chronic trajectory street segments throughout the city and a strong street-to-street variability in crime patterns suggesting area trends influence micro level trends. Overall, street segments evidencing higher social disorganization are also found to have higher levels of crime. Similarly, in the case of opportunity measures related to motivated offenders, suitable crime targets, and their accessibility, the authors find that greater opportunities for crime are found at street segments in higher rate trajectory patterns. Findings suggest that both perspectives have considerable salience in understanding crime at place, and together they allow us to develop a very strong level of prediction of crime.

Date Published: November 1, 2009