Hotspots vs. harmspots: Shifting the focus from counts to harm in the criminology of place

Cristobal Weinborn*, Barak Ariel, Lawrence W. Sherman, Emma O' Dwyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The prevailing pattern in much of the social sciences, including geography and criminology, relies on count data. “Hotspots” — geospatial areas with disproportionally more crime than the rest of the city — are usually identified by the number of events in these areas. Yet no attention is given to their severity, or any other weighting system of harm, despite the common-sense view that not all crimes are created equal. To illustrate the value of focusing on harm in addition to count data, we turn to a spatial analysis of crime by observing crime concentrations (hotspots) against harm concentrations (harmspots), across fifteen councils in the United Kingdom. The definition of “harm” is based on the Sentencing Guidelines for England and Wales, as each crime category (n = 415) attracts a different severity weight. Both “hotspots” and “harmspots” are defined as being at least 2 standard deviations from the mean distribution within each city: This procedure creates comparable datasets. The data suggest that half of all crime events are concentrated within 3% of all street segments in the selected councils, yet harm is even more heavily concentrated, with half of all harm located in just 1% of each council [OR = 3.49; 95% CI 3.268–3.728]. The intra-unit variance was also reduced by approximately half — from 0.75% to 0.45%. We discuss the implications of using harm, in addition to counts, for research and policy by arguing that a shift in focus is required both for the development of theories and for cost-effective prevention strategies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)226-244
Number of pages19
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Concentrations
  • Crime
  • Harmspots
  • Hotspots
  • Severity
  • Street segments


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