DESISTING DISTANCE DECAY: ON THE AGGREGATION OF INDIVIDUAL CRIME TRIPS*

Authors

  • PETER J. VAN KOPPEN,

    1. Psychologist and principal investigator at The Netherlands Institute for the Study of Criminality and Law Enforcement (Niscale) at Leiden, The Netherlands. His current research involves robberies, financial crime, police investigations, recovered memories and the scent line-up.
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  • JAN W. DE KEIJSER

    1. Ph.D. candidate at The Netherlands Institute for the Study of Criminality and Law Enforcement (Niscale) at Leiden, The Netherlands. In addition to the measurement problems of crime and public opinion towards punishment, his main research interest focuses on the measurement of penal attitudes among magistrates. His dissertation addresses penal attitudes among Dutch magistrates in relation to specific sentencing decisions.
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  • *

    We thank Peter van der Heijden, Galen Irwin, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Abstract

The distance-decay function suggests a spatial pattern of criminal activity whereby most crimes are committed nearer rather than farther from the criminals' own homes. Presumably, the farther away the target, the lower the chances of crimes. The reason usually offered for this general pattern is an individual one: The costs to the criminal in terms of time, energy, and money increases with distance. We contend that it may be misleading to draw inferences about individuals from the aggregated decay function because it conceals individual variations in ranges of operation. This argument is supported by data randomly generated by the computer that show that even when individual criminals increase their crime rate with increasing distance, a distance-decay function still emerges at the aggregate level. This is not to say that an individual-level distance-decay function does not exist, only that it must be demonstrated by data at the individual level because distance-decay effects can characterize aggregate behavior even in the absence of individual distance decay.

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