Geographic Profiling

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Geographic Profiling

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Geographical Profiling Analysis

Background

Geographical offender profiling (GP) is the practical application of various geographical, criminological and psychological principles to typically estimate the most likely area of an offender’s home base (e.g., the offender’s residence) or anchor point (e.g., place of work or frequent activity) based on the location of their criminal activity (e.g., crime sites) (Rossmo, 2000). The output of a GP analysis can inform ongoing investigative strategy in several ways (Rossmo, 2000): suspect prioritization, patrol saturation, neighborhood canvasses, police information systems, and DNA searches to name but a few (for further strategies used, see Knabe-Nicol & Alison, 2011).

Although GP is not firmly grounded in empirically tested theories (Levine, 2005), it does utilise several theoretical approaches from the broader framework of environmental criminology: namely Crime Pattern Theory (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1984), the Routine Activity Approach (Cohen & Felson, 1979), and the Rational Choice Perspective (Cornish & Clarke, 1986).

Application

For some time, the act of (literally) ‘sticking pins on map’ to indicate the x/y, northing-easting’s or GPS coordinates of crimes and crime series by police and researchers alike has been used to display and analyse geographical crime patterns of individuals and groups (see van Schaaik & van der Kemp, 2009, for review). With regard to GP much of the research focus has been on developing mathematical and computational models of serial offenders’ ‘pins on the map’ (e.g., offences) to predict an offender’s home-base or anchor point(s) (Canter & Youngs, 2008a). Yet, a major limitation of GP research has been that the crime location ‘map’ (e.g., topography, transport routes, social nodes, etc.) has largely been neglected (Kent & Leitner, 2009).

Further, and perhaps of even greater relevance to GP is the fact that only a handful of studies have attempted to understand the psychological aspects of why the pins are where they are (e.g., Goodwill & Alison, 2005; Rossmo, 2000; Canter & Shalev, 2000). GP is a complex process and cannot be reliably reduced to the prediction of an offender’s home base from x/y coordinates, irrespective of considering the influence of the geographic area, or the routine activity of  the probable offender (e.g., why that ‘space’? why then? why that route? etc.). As Van der Kemp and Van Koppen (2007) postulate using that information is potentially the best way to fine-tune geographical profiling.

How we can help

Our team of experts (below) have extensive experience with geographical profiling in theory and in practice. Several team members are experienced at using a number of high-end geographical profiling computer systems, including Ned Levine’s CrimeStat III and David Canter’s Dragnet.