GIS and Crime

Ian Bae

What is GIS?

A geographic information system (GIS) is a technological tool for comprehending geography and making intelligent decisions. GIS organizes geographical data so that a person reading a map can select the data necessary for a project or task. A thematic map has a table of contents that allows the reader to add layers of information to a base map of real-world locations. When the GIS connects to a certain location, it can map out the area’s exact location, weather, and climate, as well as where certain landmarks are and other types of descriptive information. GIS allows users to find patterns in specific changes and to understand relationships, and it is used in almost all fields of science and in many industries. They help gain insightful knowledge about diseases, climate change, racial inequality, and technological innovations. As technology in this world improves, using GIS can improve communication, efficiency, and management. GIS is used in almost all fields, ranging from archaeology to engineering.

How does GIS work?

There are several components to a GIS that allow the user to analyze its data. The major components of GIS are outlined below:

The Input System

Its function is to collect the required data (including maps, coordinates, and landmarks) to show the desired analysis and results.

Computer Hardware and Software Systems

Software is then used to process the data and do the following:

  1. To store the data.

  2. To manage and analyze the data.

  3. To display a visualization of the data.

Output System

The function of this component is to generate hard copies of maps, images and other types of outputs.

In GIS, there are two commonly used data types. These are:

  1. Data on real world events and features that have a few types of spatial dimension. This data is shown in the form of points, polygons, or lines, which are represented in the coordinate system in a geographic manner. For the GIS to display this type of data, scanners, GPS, and satellite imagery may be used.

  2. Data called attributes, which are in the forms of lines, polygons, and maps, and are in specific pieces. Most data sources can be used to display attributes and they are directly entered into the GIS computer software.

GIS uses many sources of geographic data and maps to track spatial location. To put it into simpler terms, picture a bird’s eye view of a simple street map. This map has all the street names, intersections, and buildings. However, what if we display what’s under and above the ground, like gas lines, sewer pipes, electric wires, telecommunications lines? Now the map is jumbled and very hard to decipher. GIS allows you to organize all that information into layered data. Everything on the map can be added to the GIS map as location-based data. In two-dimensional maps, it is borderline impossible to neatly display this much information. That’s why geographic information systems were invented: to concisely describe a surrounding area using a three dimensional map. The amazing thing about GIS is that it can process nearly all types of locational data types, from spreadsheets, photographs, and blueprints to aerial images and topographic maps.

How Can GIS Be Applied Today?

In all fields of science and in a majority of other fields, GIS is applied on a daily basis to more effectively gain insight on various topics. For example, GIS can be used in large cities to effectively calculate the best area to advertise a product, or in the oil industry to plot out all the areas where pipelines exist and where there is space available to construct more. However, in the law enforcement area, there is only a vague idea as to how GIS can be used to reduce crime. A study details four major uses for GIS in policing. Crime mapping identifies the geographical distribution of crime to deploy officers to “hot spots" of activity and to develop other intervention plans. Many departments have developed computerized statistics or CompStat systems to help manage the decision-making process. The system assists with instant crime analysis, deployment techniques, active enforcement of trivial crimes, monitoring of emerging patterns, and accountability programs for law enforcement managers. GIS is also used to create geographical profiles of offenders, an investigative method that allows police to identify locations of connected crimes to help determine where an offender may live; this is particularly useful in serial cases. While these practices are widespread, especially in larger departments, little research is available to measure their effectiveness in policing. Current studies indicate that GIS is used mainly to aid in the design of policing strategies and to evaluate the decision-making processes at law enforcement agencies.