The growth of interest in the criminology of place has generated key developments in the data and methods used in identifying and understanding geographic concentrations of crime. Ron Clarke noted in 2004 that “quite soon, crime mapping will become as much an essential tool of criminological research as statistical analysis is at present” (Clarke 2004, 60). This means, of course, that criminologists will have to develop methods of analysis that meet the new problems that geographic data present. Moreover, with ever-improving data quality and resolution, there is a constant need to evolve better research methods, practices, and statistical approaches.
This chapter will outline the imperative for a robust analytical framework that incorporates measures of adjacency in any spatial analysis, and articulate the problems that can befall an aspatial approach to geographic data. The chapter then identifies some of the unique characteristics of spatial analysis before providing an overview of new and innovative approaches to spatial criminological research.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THEORY IN DEVELOPING METHODS
We want to note at the outset that theory is key to any discussion of analytic approaches associated with spatial analyses. While this chapter highlights the roles of both analytic methods and the policy implications that may result from spatial analyses, the theories we discussed in Chapter 3 provide a framework for developing analytic results that provide a greater understanding of places, and the people who use those places, and for policy implications that can be linked to the agencies and locations that will best be served by them.
While various methodologies and techniques have been developed to examine and measure the role of place, these analytical approaches provide little practical value without also considering the reason why these places matter. A simple example of this would be to consider a black box model where we have no information on what occurs within the box, but are merely aware of the outcome of an event. This example, applied to geographic units of analysis, effectively limits the criminal justice system and agency providers to the role of responders with little knowledge or ability to understand why events are occurring and what role, if any, the location itself plays in these events.
This chapter explores the importance of place in theory and research in both mainstream criminology and other disciplines. As we noted in earlier chapters, traditional criminology has focused primarily on understanding why people commit crime. This focus on criminality has generally inhibited study of microgeographies and their role in producing crime. However, more recently there has been a trend toward integrating microgeographic places into traditional theorizing about criminality. In the first part of the chapter we discuss this trend, focusing on some recent innovations in understanding criminality that have incorporated place-based perspectives. In the second part of the chapter we focus on how other disciplines have influenced thinking in this area, focusing in particular on contributions in psychology, economics, and public health. Finally, we explore how trends in other disciplines might influence future directions of study in the criminology of place.
THE GROWING ROLE OF MICROGEOGRAPHIC PLACES IN TRADITIONAL THEORIZING OF CRIMINALITY
As we noted in Chapter 1, places, at least at a macro level, played a key part in the development of criminology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But despite the role of place in crime in empirical study in Europe and theoretical development in the Chicago School through social disorganization theory, microgeographic places were mostly ignored. This was not because early criminologists failed to recognize the role of place in crime. Crime occurs in specific environments, and this was apparent to observers of the crime problem. Nonetheless, as we noted in Chapter 1, early criminologists did not see “crime places” – small discrete areas within communities – as a relevant focus of criminological study. This was the case, in part, because crime opportunities provided by places were assumed to be so numerous as to make concentration on specific places of little utility for theory or policy. What is the point of focusing theory or research on the opportunities offered by specific places if such opportunities can be found throughout the urban context?
Moreover, criminologists did not see the utility in focusing in on situational opportunities when criminal motivation was the key to understanding crime rates. Criminologists traditionally assumed that situational factors played a relatively minor role in explaining crime as compared with the “driving force of criminal dispositions” (Clarke and Felson 1993, 4; Trasler 1993).
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