How to Identify Hot Spots

Savvy community policing officers may know which places in their beat tend to be trouble spots. Many are keenly aware of signs of unusual activity in shops, stores, street corners, warehouses and other locations they regularly patrol. Law enforcement executives and crime analysts who do not patrol beats can also identify these hot spots to help the community formulate responses.

Hot spots can be identified using:

Maps and Geographic Information Systems

Analysts can create a variety of maps that visualize different aspects of a particular location. Density maps, for example, show where crimes occur without dividing a map into regions or blocks; areas with high concentrations of crime stand out.

Analysts use geographic information systems (GIS) to combine street maps, data about crime and public disorder, and data about other features such as schools, liquor stores, warehouses and bus stops. The resulting multidimensional maps produce a visual display of the hot spots. The GIS places each crime within a grid system on a map and colors each cell based on how many incidents occurred in that area.

See Reading a Crime Map.

Although high-crime areas may often be defined as hot spots based on past experiences of officers or the characteristics of those areas, GIS allow law enforcement agencies to more accurately pinpoint hot spots to confirm trouble areas, identify the specific nature of the activity occurring within the hot spot and then develop strategies to respond.

Statistical Tests

Analysts can use statistical software to determine whether an area with a high number of crimes is a hot spot or whether the clustering of those crimes is a random occurrence.

CrimeStat III and GeoDa are two computer software programs for hot spot analysis.

Date Modified: May 25, 2010