7/12/99: Mapping Out Crime: Introduction


Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents


Crime rates, particularly for violent crime, have dropped dramatically in cities and towns across the United States. The FBI's preliminary 1998 figures show a decline in serious crime for the seventh consecutive year. Just from 1997 to 1998, serious crime declined 7 percent nationally. Experts cite more police on the streets, tighter controls on guns, and more effective policing—including the use of crime mapping and data-driven management—as contributing to these unprecedented drops in crime.

On October 1, 1998, Vice President Al Gore announced the creation of a Task Force on Crime Mapping and Data-Driven Management to further the efforts of the Clinton-Gore Administration to reduce and prevent crime. He asked the Task Force, a joint activity of the Department of Justice and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, to learn how crime mapping and data-driven management are being used by law enforcement agencies and to find ways to increase their use to further reduce crime. Chaired by Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher and Morley Winograd, Director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, the Task Force surveyed current activities in the Department of Justice and other federal agencies and reviewed reports by various academic groups, the General Accounting Office, the Department of Justice, and others. It held an Expert Roundtable on Crime Mapping and Data-Driven Management; conducted interviews with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and community leaders; and held a meeting of law enforcement officials to review the use of performance measures as a management tool. The Task Force also conducted site visits to some of the country's law enforcement agencies and communities with the most successful records of improving public safety over the past decade.

The Task Force found that some of the most dramatic improvements in public safety are being made as law enforcement agencies reach out to and work with communities to achieve clear goals, use good information, and implement effective strategies and tactics. Community leaders and law enforcement officials across the country are finding new ways to work together to make communities safer and more secure. They are using cutting-edge information tools to map crime and solid, current information to document and understand problems. They are bringing community police officers, professionals from a variety of disciplines, community leaders, and others together to develop tactics and strategies based on a shared understanding of crime data. Together, they are putting a new face on law enforcement.


Maps can represent every dimension of a community.... They can show how healthy a community's children are, where social services are most needed and most effective, and ways to protect the safety of each citizen . . . innovative communities are using maps to mobilize resources to solve their toughest problems.

—Vice President Al Gore

Mapping has a long history as a tool to understand crime. It is generally traced back to 19th century France, when cartographers first analyzed national patterns of crime. This promising beginning soon dissipated, however, with resistance to the burden of drawing maps by hand and with a shift of intellectual attention from geographic and statistical patterns of crime to social and individual roots. Even in the 1960s, when police used pins and paper maps to plot the location of crimes, few felt the need to share crime results with the community, with scholars, or even with other parts of local government.

Today, mapping uses computers with greatly increased capacity and is a powerful tool for displaying where problems and resources are and for mobilizing action. More powerful computers allow the development of geographic information systems that include a wide range of information, including data on crime, community perceptions, risk factors, and community resources. Police officials in New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, and many other cities meet to review data displayed on maps and charts, dissect crime patterns, and plan action. New mapping software is letting many more people see the relationship between crime and place. Police departments are regularly publishing crime maps on the Internet and are thereby being held accountable for public safety.

Crime maps help police identify problems at the block or neighborhood level. In fact, police officers in some locations will soon be able to produce maps of their beat showing events of the previous 24 hours. Because the boundaries and scales of computer-produced maps are not fixed, maps can be produced that describe patterns and share information at the level of a neighborhood, a ZIP code, a city, a region, or even the entire nation. Thus, the same tool that is being used to support community policing can also be used to support new forms of cooperation across a region and across agencies.


I think an important explanation for the popularity of mapping is that law enforcement at all ranks and levels recognizes the value of spatial information as a tool to drive decision making.

—Attorney General Janet Reno

The belief that crime can be reduced through good management is as essential to 21st century policing as is new information technology. If crime is not simply a function of individual pathology or inevitable cycles, then it can be affected by how and where resources are deployed, and by what strategies and tactics are employed. Goals must be set, and decisions must be based on good information.

As Attorney General Reno has noted, law enforcement must "use data and information as the basis for law enforcement decision making and strategy development." Used together, crime mapping and data-driven management are powerful tools in the fight against crime. When police departments bring together a cross-section of community stakeholders to look at crime data visually displayed on local maps, the discussions inevitably lead to more effective solutions for community problems and stronger police-community relationships. Partnerships, mapping, data analysis, and data-driven decision making are key elements of a new approach to solving a wide variety of social problems.


Several cities in the United States have distinguished themselves in the fight to reduce crime over the past decade. These cities have surpassed national decreases and dramatically reduced crime through collaborative partnerships and the use of targeted policy and program strategies to address priority crime and quality-of-life concerns. Cities on the crest of the crime prevention wave have demonstrated a capacity to fuse grassroots support, political and bureaucractic will, and crime prevention best practices into a distinct and sustained way of doing business.

—Six Safer Cities, National Crime Prevention Council

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are reaching out to and working in partnership with communities. There are dramatic examples of the results of partnerships in Minnesota, Hillsborough County, Florida, and elsewhere. One of the best known is in the city of Boston where an effective partnership has been able to reduce youth homicide significantly: for 18 months, there was not a single youth homicide in the city.

Boston's success has been explained in a variety of ways. It was based on good data and analysis. The homicides were mapped, the gangs involved identified, and effective strategies developed and tested with the support of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The police worked with a wide variety of community groups. The faith community, through the Ten Point Coalition, played a critical role, communicating that this kind of violence was no longer acceptable in Boston and working with criminal justice to get offenders into the correct remediation. The U.S. Attorney brought federal prosecutions in support of the effort, working closely with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Flexible federal funds spurred community groups to get involved. Private groups and public resources created jobs for youth. The media helped by monitoring and publicizing progress.

No single answer or group can explain what happened in Boston. Rather, as in the other communities that are reclaiming their neighborhoods, the whole community—federal, state and local, public and private, law enforcement officials and law-abiding citizens—came together in common cause and turned the tide.


In October 1998, the Task Force convened an Expert Roundtable to explore issues related to crime data, mapping, and analysis as well as the role of law enforcement management. The Roundtable was comprised of police chiefs, crime experts, community members from across the nation, and federal officials. The discussion led to a description of a future vision of policing and communities.

Law enforcement agencies in the 21st century will have a clear sense of their public safety goals and a problem-oriented approach to strategies and tactics. Law enforcement decisions will include more discussions with stakeholders, including community members, elected officials, and other government managers. Law enforcement agencies will regularly share information with the public, across agencies and jurisdictions, and work in partnership with other government agencies such as housing, transportation, schools, and social services to reduce and prevent crime.

The management and culture of 21st century law enforcement will be accountable to all members of its community. Law enforcement departments will build an organizational structure based on geographic responsibility, allowing front-line officers to work more effectively with neighborhoods and communities, supported by specialized units and headquarters. All levels of the workforce will have the skills and desire to work collaboratively with communities as well as with technology. Law enforcement agencies in the 21st century will rely on current, integrated information; will employ advanced mapping and analytic techniques; and will have both external and internal performance expectations and measurements. The focus of the entire agency organization, its funding decisions, and the management of its resources will be tied to the achievement of agency goals.

In this report, the Task Force recommends steps that the federal government can take to help the nation's law enforcement community succeed in the next century. It describes specific actions that the federal government can take to support community policing with 21st century tools (chapter II), encourage the development of basic information to support public safety (chapter III), and strengthen federal law enforcement agencies through similar tools and approaches (chapter IV). It also includes highlights from cities that are using the techniques of mapping and data-driven management (chapter V). This report is intended to be a useful resource document, as well. Hyperlinks to Web sites and contact persons are located throughout the document; click on the underlined word or words for additional material and information.

Mapping Out Crime Table of Contents

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