THE LAW OF CRIME CONCENTRATION AND THE CRIMINOLOGY OF PLACE

Authors


  • This article is based on my Sutherland Lecture at the American Society of Criminology meetings in San Francisco in 2014. I want to thank Breanne Cave, Matthew Nelson, Shai Amram, and Alese Wooditch for their assistance in preparing this address. I am especially indebted to Alese Wooditch who helped me prepare the data and develop the analyses for examination of crime concentration across cities. I also want to thank Barak Ariel, Anthony Braga, Frank Cullen, Charlotte Gill, Liz Groff, Joshua Hinkle, John Laub, Stephen Mastrofski, and Daniel Nagin for their thoughtful comments on the article. Direct correspondence to David Weisburd, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS D12, Fairfax, VA 22030 (e-mail: dweisbur@gmu.edu).

Abstract

According to Laub (2004), criminology has a developmental life course with specific turning points that allow for innovations in how we understand and respond to crime. I argue that criminology should take another turn in direction, focusing on microgeographic hot spots. By examining articles published in Criminology, I show that only marginal attention has been paid to this area of study to date—often termed the criminology of place. I illustrate the potential utility of a turning point by examining the law of crime concentration at place, which states that for a defined measure of crime at a specific microgeographic unit, the concentration of crime will fall within a narrow bandwidth of percentages for a defined cumulative proportion of crime. By providing the first cross-city comparison of crime concentration using a common geographic unit, the same crime type, and examining a general crime measure, I find strong support for a law of crime concentration. I also show that crime concentration stays within a narrow bandwidth across time, despite strong volatility in crime incidents. By drawing from these findings, I identify several key research questions for future study. In conclusion, I argue that a focus on the criminology of place provides significant opportunity for young scholars and has great promise for advancing criminology as a science.

Ancillary