Crime Cluster

Crime Cluster

Crime and disorder cluster in ‘hot spots’

There is substantial evidence that crime and disorder tend to cluster in certain places or at certain times (Eck, 1997). Some housing areas are more likely than others to suffer domestic burglary (Mirrlees-Black ef a/, 1998); some stores are more prone to shop theft than others (Mirrlees-Black and Ross, 1995); some post offices, banks and building societies are more vulnerable to robbery (Ekblom, 1987; Austin, 1988; Matthews, 1996); and disorder associated with pubs and clubs, perhaps not surprisingly, tends to occur in city centres on Friday and Saturday nights at closing time (Hope, 1985). Drugs are sold in identifiable markets (Edmunds et a/, 1996), prostitutes frequent ‘red light’ districts (Matthews, 1993) – the list is long. These patterns are sufficiently stable over time to suggest that action directed specifically at them would pay off handsomely (Spelman, 1995; Braga et 01, 1999).
In order to confirm the existence of hot spots within the area planned for an intervention, an accurate and uptodate crime recording system is needed. There are numerous examples of police data not meeting these criteria. Incomplete data, and a lack of specificity, are common problems. For example, a car park may appear as a hot spot for car crime, but it is rarely the case that the exact location of any incident within the car park will be recorded. Indeed, the identification of the car park itself can sometimes be vague in police data sets, requiring manual recoding and extensive cleaning of the data. [1]

Crime clusters on ‘hot victims’ (repeat victims)

Beginning in the early 1980’s the (United Kingdom) Home Office supported a programme of research and development on the prevention of repeat victimisation (Forrester, et a/, 1988, 1990; Sampson and Farrell, 1990; Sampson, 1991 ; Sampson and Phillips, 1992; Tilley, 1993a; Lloyd et a/, 1994; Pitts and Smith, 1995; Sampson and Phillips, 1995; Anderson et a/, 1995; Chenery et a/, 1997; Hanmer et a/, 1999). Farrell and Pease (1993) note that repeat victimisation is relevant to domestic and commercial burglary, car crime, racial attacks, school crime, bullying, domestic violence, credit card fraud, retail sector crime, obscene phone calls and neighbour disputes.

Targeting repeat victims as a means of reducing crime makes sense and it has been part of the UK policy since the mid 1990’s. The government was, however, aware of some of the practical difficulties that this presented to the police in determining its local relevance. As a way of encouraging the police to pay attention to repeat victimisation, the UK government set a target for all forces to have available a means of identibing repeat victims by the end of 1996, and to go on to establish a strategy to reduce it by 1998. Farrell and colleagues report the results of a survey of all 43 UK forces, which records the progress made by the forces in 1999. At that time all UK police agencies claimed to be able to identify repeat victims and to have developed a strategy to reduce its incidence (Farre11 et a/, 2000).
In tackling repeat victimisation the first issue identified by the police was its definition. Should the unit of analysis be the individual, the household, the vehicle or other target? Should crimes of different types count as repeat victimisation?

The formal response from the British Home Office, which is where much of this work has been carried out, has been that the appropriate definition is simply the one that works the best in the specific circumstances. This means that practitioners in the field are obliged to use a little initiative, but given that our expertise in this area is still developing, it is probably the optimal solution. The snapshot of police activity reported by Farrell and his coworkers looked at what definitions were used in practice. Data were examined relating to the definition of repeat residential burglary for 42 of the 43 UK forces, and that relating to commercial burglary was used for the City of London police, where domestic burglary was less of a concern. The results are shown in Table 1 (taken from Farrell et a/, 2000).

In the United States, it is difficult to get a complete picture of the extent to which the significance of attending to repeat crimes has penetrated police activity, but in those few areas where this issue has been targeted for academic attention there does seem to be some reluctance to accept the research evidence (Lamm Weisel, 2000). Furthermore, the problem of incomplete or inaccurate data is compounded when repeat victimisation is the subject of attention. The usual inaccuracies of recording are present, but there is the added problem, particularly common in the United States, of the failure to record the apartment number of a home which may have been burgled and which is located in an apartment block. This means that it looks as though there is a great deal of repeat burglary because the apartment blocks are registering in the crime analysis rather than the individual units of which they are comprised (lamm Weisel, 2000). [2]



1. Tilley, N., & Laycock, G. (2002). Working out what to do: Evidence-based crime reduction. Crime Reduction Research Series paper 11, London: HMSO. ISBN 1-84082-792-0
2. Id.



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