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Tracking Crime Patterns: An Exploratory Data Analysis of Mass Transit Systems and Criminal Events

NCJ Number
Rob Tillyer
Date Published
June 2003
149 pages
This study examined the relationship between the existence of mass transit stations in areas and the spatial patterns of criminal activity in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2001.
The study design and objectives stemmed from the theoretical principles of environmental criminology and used the criminal-event perspective to study criminal activity. Environmental criminology emphasizes the importance of developing knowledge from a multidimensional approach that includes factors such as space and time, economics, and the law. These components interact to provide the context within which human activity occurs. As determined by environmental criminology, transportation systems are a critical element in the activity patterns of individuals, subsequently assisting in the identification of areas that have a greater risk for criminal activity. Data on police calls for service were analyzed to identify patterns of criminal activity. Only the spatial component of crime patterns were examined in this study. A visual examination of geographical crime patterns was developed through the use of a geographical information system. The calls for service involved reports of crimes of assault, commercial break and enter, mischief, possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, and residential break and enter. The crime types were analyzed separately to determine whether crime types conformed to distinctive spatial patterns. The exception was possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, for which there was not sufficient data to perform an analysis. The issue addressed in the analysis was the effect of a mass transit station on the intensity of criminal activity in an area. A positive spatial relationship was expected to exist between mass transit stations and the intensity of criminal activity in the area. The study found that although some stations appeared to have a higher crime rate or clustering of criminal activity, it was not clear that the mass transit station was responsible for this pattern or whether some other unknown factors were involved. Further, even if a station could be identified as having a key role in the patterning of criminal events, it was not clear what percentage of crime occurrence was directly attributable to having a mass transit station. The findings do, however, support environmental criminology's principle of activity patterns, the utility of the criminal-event perspective, and the necessity of studying crime types separately. This study lays the foundation for future research on specific variables that combine to produce unique, clustered patterns of criminal activity. 32 figures, 8 tables, and 66 references