Crime and the era of ‘big data’

In this current era of ‘big data’, crime data poses both opportunities and challenges for data scientists and crime analysts. The wealth of data available at increasingly small spatial scales provides good opportunities for better understanding the relationship between crime and place; while investment in data linkage infrastructure is allowing us to examine the connection between crime and a host of other social and environmental factors. Within our AQMeN programme of research, we have considered what the era of ‘big data’ means for criminology and been active in securing access to new forms of data to examine this.

(1) Crime Data and Criminal Statistics (Maguire and McVie)
In the Oxford Handbook of Criminology (6th Edition) we consider the kinds of crime data that are collected, presented and published, and the changing nature and perceptions of the crime problem and the policy demands that arise from this. We consider whether it is really possible to determine whether there has been a crime drop given the problems inherent in measuring crime both reliably and consistently over time. We also discuss the decline in public trust in official crime statistics, and consider the recent efforts made to reclaim trust in how crime data are collated and presented. Looking at data for England and Wales, we chart the use of different measures of crime and how these are used. We explore the rapid expansion in new forms of data about crime, and the difficulty of measuring some new forms of offending (e.g. cybercrime). We also summarise the challenges, debates and dilemmas about the future of national crime statistics.

Further information:
Maguire, M. and McVie, S. (2017) Crime Data and Criminal Statistics: A Critical Reflection. In A. Liebling, S. Maruna and L. McAra (eds) Oxford Handbook on Criminology. Sixth Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(2) Creating new data linkage projects using crime data (Matthews and McVie)
We have been working in partnership with the Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) to create new projects involving linked crime data in Scotland. Our work involves three main projects: (1) linking data from the National Crime Agency, Police Scotland and the Census to examine the impact to controlled drug parcel deliveries in Scotland; (2) linking data from the Scottish Offenders Index to the Scottish Longitudinal Study to explore the relationship between educational experience at school and later criminal conviction; and (3) linking data from police, fire and ambulance services to better understand the level and nature of demand for ‘blue light’ services in Scotland. These projects all have a strong policy relevance and will be used to inform and improve integrated public sector working around crime.

Further information can be found at the ADRC (Scotland) website

(3) Using big data to study place and crime (Bates and Bannister)
Big data provides excellent opportunities to better understand the relationships between space, place and crime. Within our AQMeN programme, we have conducted a number of projects using crime data to study the changing spatial distribution of crime. In addition, we have contributed articles to a special edition of The Royal Scottish Geographical Society Newsletter, The Geographer, on the use of big data to better understand the non-random spatial distribution of crime. Langton and Bannister consider the theoretical and technological implications of new forms of data which are growing in terms of volume, velocity and variety. While Bates discusses the challenges of studying crime hotspots and what this means for modern policing.

Further information:
Bates, E. (2017) Crime Hotspots. The Geographer – Newsletter of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. P24
Langton, S. and Bannister, J. (2017) Space, place and crime in an era of ‘big data’. The Geographer – Newsletter of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. P23

Ellie Bates
Jon Bannister