Is it important to examine crime trends at a local "micro" level? A longitudinal analysis of street to street variability in crime trajectories

Elizabeth R. Groff, David Weisburd, Sue Ming Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


Over the last 40 years, the question of how crime varies across places has gotten greater attention. At the same time, as data and computing power have increased, the definition of a 'place' has shifted farther down the geographic cone of resolution. This has led many researchers to consider places as small as single addresses, group of addresses, face blocks or street blocks. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of the spatial distribution of crime have consistently found crime is strongly concentrated at a small group of 'micro' places. Recent longitudinal studies have also revealed crime concentration across micro places is relatively stable over time. A major question that has not been answered in prior research is the degree of block to block variability at this local 'micro' level for all crime. To answer this question, we examine both temporal and spatial variation in crime across street blocks in the city of Seattle Washington. This is accomplished by applying trajectory analysis to establish groups of places that follow similar crime trajectories over 16 years. Then, using quantitative spatial statistics, we establish whether streets having the same temporal trajectory are collocated spatially or whether there is street to street variation in the temporal patterns of crime. In a surprising number of cases we find that individual street segments have trajectories which are unrelated to their immediately adjacent streets. This finding of heterogeneity suggests it may be particularly important to examine crime trends at very local geographic levels. At a policy level, our research reinforces the importance of initiatives like 'hot spots policing' which address specific streets within relatively small areas.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)7-32
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was supported by grant 2005-IJ-CX-0006 from the National Institute of Justice (US Department of Justice). Points of view in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the US Department of Justice. We would like to thank Dan Nagin for his thoughtful suggestions regarding trajectory analysis, Richard Heiberger for his assistance with R programming, and Breanne Cave and the anonymous reviewers whose comments were invaluable in strengthening the paper. We also want to express our gratitude for the cooperation of the Seattle Police Department, and especially to Lieutenant Ron Rasmussen for playing the crucial role of our main data contact and former Chief Gil Kerlikowske (now Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) for his interest in and support of our work.


  • Crime concentration
  • Hot spots
  • Micro
  • Spatio-temporal


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