Predicting Dynamical Crime Distribution From Environmental and Social Influences

Simon Garnier, Joel M. Caplan, Leslie W. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Understanding how social and environmental factors contribute to the spatio-temporal distribution of criminal activities is a fundamental question in modern criminology. Thanks to the development of statistical techniques such as Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM), it is possible to evaluate precisely the criminogenic contribution of environmental features to a given location. However, the role of social information in shaping the distribution of criminal acts is largely understudied by the criminological research literature. In this paper we investigate the existence of spatio-temporal correlations between successive robbery events, after controlling for environmental influences as estimated by RTM. We begin by showing that a robbery event increases the likelihood of future robberies at and in the neighborhood of its location. This event-dependent influence decreases exponentially with time and as an inverse function of the distance to the original event. We then combine event-dependence and environmental influences in a simulation model to predict robbery patterns at the scale of a large city (Newark, NJ). We show that this model significantly improves upon the predictions of RTM alone and of a model taking into account event-dependence only when tested against real data that were not used to calibrate either model. We conclude that combining risk from exposure (past event) and vulnerability (environment), following from the Theory of Risky Places, when modeling crime distribution can improve crime suppression and prevention efforts by providing more accurate forecasting of the most likely locations of criminal events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalFrontiers in Applied Mathematics and Statistics
StatePublished - May 15 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Applied Mathematics


  • crime forecasting
  • dynamical systems
  • event dependence
  • risk terrain modeling
  • robbery
  • vulnerability and exposure


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