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Why crime occurs where it does: a psycho-spatial analysis of criminal geography

Synnott, John (2013) Why crime occurs where it does: a psycho-spatial analysis of criminal geography. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

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This study investigates the impact of aspects of geographic location on criminal spatial behaviour. It is also concerned with where crimes occurs and how the location of crime may actually limit the behavioural possibilities of criminality, these limitations are derived, in part, from offenders representations of their offending locations and the potential for desired criminal activity in those locations. The underlying behavioural possibilities for criminal movement relate to the background characteristics of the individuals committing offences. The Thesis develops a locational characteristic paradigm, which puts the focus on where crime occurs reflecting the type of the individual who is likely to commit crime there.

This study examines those features of individuals' psychological, physical or cultural backgrounds, as they relate to geography, that prohibit or inhibit forms of criminal movement. The study addresses this by focusing on an offenders' representation of crime opportunities, the distribution of crime locations and offenders considerations when planning their crimes. The study aims to provide a direct challenge to some of the key concepts within the criminal spatial literature, such as routine activity theory, rational choice theory, the psychological importance of the home and the influence of familiarity on crime locations.

Individual differences across features of criminality are examined. Real crime cases are explored in order to unearth the differences within the geographic profile of offences. Offender representations of their offending areas are studied in an attempt to establish what these depictions actually represent. The work explores the distribution of offence locations and the rationale offenders put forward for why they offended where they did to establish if there are barriers to offending and how offenders account for these barriers, if at all.

The first stage of the research is a Case Study introduction to the crime of Tiger Kidnap (TK)
in Ireland. TK is an adaptation of a Standard Armed Robbery offence and is the term used to describe the abduction of a person(s) of importance to a target (generally a bank manager) in which that person(s) is used as collateral until the target complies with the requests of the offenders. What makes TK a unique crime is introduced and the substantial distribution of offence locations, something which has not previously been observed in the criminology literature, is discussed.

The first empirical analysis addresses methodological concerns within the measurement of distance data. It challenges the related literature which suggests Crow Flight as a valid and reliable measure of criminal distance data. Previous studies acknowledge that Crow Flight knowingly underestimates the likely distance offenders travel and that it relates to the relative position of locations in the mental representations of distance. It is hypothesised that this difference is likely to be significant, and, that offenders conceptualise distance through routes, not relative positions of location. This was confirmed in the interviews with offenders. This study compliments previous work on this topic by opening the possibility of a new methodological alternative for measuring criminal distance data. The argument for this conceptualisation of distance is based on the advancement in technology and transport primarily, where offenders now have access to route information much more readily than they will have to deal with the relative position of locations. The advance planning found in the current cases show that offenders have gone as far as to travel the routes that they will use, indicating that these distances are considered in terms of routes and the time it takes to travel these routes. The hypothesis is that there is a significant difference between the Crow Flight measure and the Route Distance measure of distance data. A significant distortion in probable distance travelled compared to the Crow Flight measure was found. The findings provide support for the current argument that distance measures in future studies would have greater methodological precision if they were to favour the route distance measure .

The work moves to examine the geographical profile of TK offences in Ireland. Building on the first study into distance measurements, and how using route distance appears to be, for Irish offences, a more psychologically valid form of measurement. The second study applied these findings onto the measurement stage of a sample of real cases of TK while also looking at the variation between offences. The hypothesis was that there would be a significant difference between TK in the North and South of Ireland. The analysis found that offenders in the North of Ireland had a significantly reduced geographic profile than offenders in the South. These differences relate to the type of offenders that are operating in those locations.

Research from the Home Office and reports from the Police Service of North Ireland has suggested that TK in the North, are committed by ex-paramilitary offenders who are likely to have advanced skills in hostage taking and experience in staging and planning operations of this nature. This type of offender is less bound to the geographical opportunities that offenders in the South can avail of and operate on a much more refined geographic template than their counterparts in the South. This study highlights the distortion that can be found when studying types of offences as a whole, and, specifically, it showed the differences that can exist within the same crime type.

The forth stage of the work explored offenders cognitive maps and the information that can be
gleaned from the graphic representations of their crimes. The study tested the validity of a revised model of Appleyard's 1970's Sketch Map Classification Scheme. The study questions whether the multi optional classification schemes are too broad to distinguish one style of map from another. The results supported this position, finding that the rigid classification schemes are unreliable as they are too subjective in the manner in which they can be ascribed. However, it was found that there was a distinction between maps that were basic and simple over more complex maps. It was also found that the context behind the drawing, as in what was being represented by the offender, influenced the style of map that was presented. This suggests that knowledge of the background to the offender is just as integral to the process of classifying an individual's cognitive map as is the sketch map itself.

The final study explores the role of psychological barriers to crime and offenders
interpretation of their offending behaviour. This was achieved through exploring the distribution of crime around the Dublin region in Ireland. The hypothesis was that the distribution of offences would be restricted to the side of the city in which the offender resided. This was supported through the finding that offenders preferred to offend on the side of the city that they lived. This is illustrated in the maps that they marked their crimes on. This was based on the psychological barriers to movement that manifests itself in the River Liffey that divides the North of the city from the South of the City. Offenders rationale for offending on one side of the city over the other highlights an interesting development in that they equate the locations in which they offend to be based on issues removed from the influence of the river partition. Security consideration and closeness to home were offered as reasons why offenders offended where they did. However, when studying the distribution of offence locations they highlight a clear distinction in the form of a geographic arena, based on the river that divides the city. Further examples of this geographic arena are discussed in respect to the distribution of offence locations in the North of Ireland which relate to the border that previously divided the North of Ireland from the South of Ireland. This study highlighted the need for an understanding of not just offender characteristics but also the physical characteristics of the location of crime.

The implications of these studies for how we conceptualise criminal spatial movement are
discussed. At present, there exist little to no study into the area of spatial context, which is an understanding of the nature of the differences in movement based on the characteristic background of the offender. The special importance of the crime of TK and the unique contributes of this form of criminality is outlined. A criterion based paradigm for the measurement, analysis and interpretation of geographical data is put forward. An improved understanding of specific influencing aspects of offenders’ spatial behaviour will enhance the modelling of offender behaviour. This has implications for policing and the investigation of crime generally.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Depositing User: Elizabeth Boulton
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2015 14:24
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2015 12:16


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