Crime-Place Networks

Crime doesn’t just happen; it happens at a place. And as we’ve discussed, that place, and surrounding places, help explain why the crime occurred. Criminologists have long demonstrated the incredible link between place and crime. David Weisburd, PhD, and others even refer to the “law of crime concentration” since address clusters or crime hot spots can stably account for a large percentage of crime and disorder problems in a given city.

Our job is not only to identify these hot places but also to understand what is going on there, and close by there, that explains persistent problems. These dynamics are creating and facilitating more problem people and activities at this place than most others. And these identified dynamics should be addressed.

Further, crime and place dynamics can enable better public-private enforcement and prevention partnerships since they provide definable locations and root causes for protective action.

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Many law enforcement agencies use crime mapping to locate calls for service clusters. Crime analysis maps display specific crime event addresses, but Tamara Herold, PhD, and John Eck, PhD, describe the reality of crime-place networks. Crime places aren’t usually just one spot. They’re connected places that facilitate criminal activity. These interrelated places include critical criminal infrastructure that needs to be discovered and linked via further investigation. And this framework should help organized retail crime investigators and local and store-level LP investigators better define and address problems.

Crime-place networks can include four types of places:

1. Crime sites—specific places where crime occurs (think theft, fraud, violence)

2. Convergent settings—public places where offenders routinely meet (house, bar, and so forth)

3. Comfort spaces—private meeting, staging, and supplying locations

4. Corrupting spots—places that encourage criminal activity in other locations (bar, drug spot)

Organization of Violent Place Networks Chart

An example of a crime-place network might be a retail strip center that facilitates public gathering in a nearby bar and next to a large apartment complex. Each of these sites provides a higher-risk area by providing desirable human and goods targets, meeting and storage spots, as well as a corrupting influence like the tavern that helped criminals meet each other, get drunk, and help launder money.

Risk-Terrain Modeling

We know landscape features of a specific place and close-by places and spaces can influence and enable behavior. An example might be a store across from a dimly lighted convenience store, a check-cashing business, and a laundromat that all draw people and provide loitering spots. These environmental features can generate potential people and place-crime victims, draw predatory offenders, and provide them ways to congregate, blend in, and victimize place users and our store.

Leslie Kennedy, Joel Caplan, Eric Piza, Grant Drawve, and others from the Rutgers Center on Public Security (RCPS) have developed a risk-terrain modeling (RTM) framework and even special mapping software to study and affect crime-generating places. This process helps identify the matrix of risky places for situational understanding.

Crime and Place Kaleidoscope Chart, Caplan

Hot spots tell you where crime is clustering but may not help us understand why that’s the case. The RCPS explains hot spots are merely signs and symptoms of places that are highly suitable for crime. RTM advances this by providing some spatial diagnosis. The process helps identify how and how much risk goes up the closer your place is to risk-generating places and other spatial features. It is now up to public-private teams to use this information to devise, test, and deploy focused crime reduction and suppression efforts.

The Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) Violent Crime Working Group and its Anti-Violence Innovation Team are using these tools and others to work out cost-effective anti-violence solution sets for enhancement and evaluation. The iChain concept means the group aligns solutions with specific criminal offender steps (crime scripts) to maximize protective effects while reducing negative side effects. We strongly encourage you to look into getting involved in this process with us. Shoppers and employees expect and deserve to be relatively safe while on property.

There are no silver bullets, and place protection is a work in progress like curing the common cold. But only through collective, framework-guided, rigorous research and development will we better keep vulnerable people safer.


As I write this, we’ve just finished holding LPRC’s annual board of advisors (BOA) winter planning meeting branded IGNITE. It was a fantastic gathering of over forty loss prevention and asset protection leaders, solution partners, and some innovation partners and prospects to plan upcoming crime and loss control research and development.

The group dug into some of the over eighty current research projects, identified more priorities, and toured and advised on the brand new LPRC Innovate Next Retail Center (NRC) facility. The NRC’s Ideation and Simulation Lab (ISL) is in University of Florida’s Innovate Hub, an amazing creative space across from LPRC’s existing research lab. The ISL features a state-of-the-art ideation space that members will use to brainstorm new concepts and solve current and upcoming challenges. Right next to it is the simulation space where groups will be immersed in 180 degree, realistic, high-resolution or rendered video to more quickly and cheaply explore interior and exterior options. The space also has virtual and augmented reality capability.

The group was extremely excited to start using the NRC resources for their teams, for working with their business partners like store operations, IT, supply chain, merchants, and others and for training scenarios. The NRC will enable faster action than normally available in traditional settings. Sensormatic provided the NRC’s seed money, with more innovation partners beginning to invest to expand the center and its capabilities. Again, please consider setting up a visit to Gainesville to tour and help us shape and use all these LP problem-solving resources.

Members of LPRC’s board of advisors at the IGNITE winter planning meeting at the University of Florida

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