Risky Locations

“We live in a nice neighborhood.”

“I never thought something like that could happen here.”

“This is the good part of town.”

You’ve probably heard – or even uttered – these phrases. Crime happens in a place you wouldn’t expect it to, and phrases like these come out.  The reality is, crime happens everywhere – no where is immune. But certainly, there are areas that can have a higher tendency for crime than others.

Force Science Institute News #268 contains an article on “What locations are riskiest for you?” In this context, “you” means law-enforcement officers. And while I tend to look at things from a private citizen standpoint, this is still information worthy of note.

The study looked at data from the nation’s second largest municipal police department (Chicago), and constructed “a “risk terrain model” that links an officer’s relative danger of felonious injury to the presence of certain environmental factors.” They looked at 991 batteries (“serious bodily harm or death, including firearm threats and assaults) against CPD officers over a 12-month period. They examined where those tended to occur across the city, at a granularity of about 1-city block. They also considered other “potential risk factors”, locations likely to be trouble spots like apartment complexes, night clubs, homeless shelters, laundromats, convenience stores, etc..

From their analysis, they determined an “exceptionally strong” statistical correlation between batteries against officers and proximity to 11 environmental features.

In a descending order of risk, “police who handle calls for service at locations with foreclosures, problem buildings [sources of complaints about criminal activity], bars, schools, gang territories, banks, apartment complexes, liquor stores, clusters of service requests for malfunctioning streetlights, grocery stores and/or retail shops are at a greater risk of felonious battery,” Caplin writes.

At the upper end of this list, calls “within three blocks of foreclosures and/or within a dense area of problem buildings pose as much as two to three times greater risk of battery to police officers” than calls to locations at the lower end of the spectrum, he says. But even the lesser locations on the list present a significantly higher danger than the average among all the cells analyzed.

Of course, the risk is even greater at locations where more than one of these “model features” is present.

The specifics are unclear, but Caplan theorizes that the behavior of people can be influenced by the geographical features around them. “The nature of certain places may be perceived by offenders to be opportune locations to behave aggressively toward police,” he writes.

For example, “foreclosures may be high-risk due to the absence of invested caretakers who would otherwise serve as ‘eyes and ears’ within the area. This void of guardians may serve as cues to certain suspects that the prospect for instant freedom from criminal justice authorities is better had with aggression toward police rather than cooperation.”

Rather an interesting take-home. Of course, like any study it really is a call for further study: to have the study replicated in other cities, other jurisdictions, other departments, both within the US but also abroad. So, take the study results for what they are.

Out of curiousity, I asked Tom Givens how this data compared to his (ever growing) data set of student/civilian incidents. His response:


That all makes sense from a law-enforcement perspective. Bear in mind that these are police officers responding to calls for service. That takes them to foreclosed homes, ghetto apartment complexes, and such locations that the typical middle-class CCW holder is far less likely to frequent.

In our civilians experience the most dangerous places are gas station/convenience store, shopping malls and parking lots in general. These are the places where your typical CCW holder has the highest chance of interacting with strangers, and thus with criminals.

Hope this helps.


Either way, this information does give you an idea of where there is greater risk, and lends into John Farnam’s quip about personal safety: “Don’t go to stupid places, associate with stupid people, and do stupid things.”

2 thoughts on “Risky Locations

  1. Not a detailed break down but the Bureau of Justice Statistics does provide some information regarding location

    Summary findings

    Between 2004 and 2008 —
    About 1 in 3 violent crimes occurred in or near the victim’s own home.
    During this time period almost 1 in 5 violent crimes took place in open areas such as yards, playgrounds, fields, on the street or in other similar locations.
    Almost two thirds of all property crimes took place in or near the home of the household members.
    More than 1 in 10 property crimes occurred in parking lots or garages.
    Purse snatchings and pocket pickings typically occur away from home. The most common places of occurrence were in commercial places such as restaurants, bars and other commercial buildings (39.1%) and open areas such as the street or on public transportation (28.2%). About 10% of personal thefts occurred in or near the victim’s home or the home of a friend or neighbor.

    For me the take away was the nature of the crime changed depending on the location; more property thefts in garages for example — means I’m more likely to walk up on someone trying to break into my car.

    Muggings, pick pockets, etc are more likely to happen in crowded areas — so I have to be on the look out for different types of suspicious behaviors.

    The problem with John Farnam’s quote is sometimes we don’t have a choice. An example from personal experience recently; I had to go to an empty parking lot at midnight; to pick up my son and help one of his co-workers get a car started. Didn’t have a choice but to go there no matter the place. Or like my wife, she has jury duty soon. The court house parking area isn’t in a great area.

    You are right in that knowing where there is a greater risk is helpful.

    Bob S.

    • I don’t think there’s any problem with Farnam’s statement — it’s a statement of how you can reduce your personal risk, and it holds true.

      But yes, sometimes we must go into more risky places, and when we do… well, at least we KNOW that we’re doing so and can take precautions. This is as opposed to going into a risky location and remaining as oblivious as ever (which is typically the case with most people).

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.