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International Journal of Geographical
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Network-based space-time search-
window technique for hotspot
detection of street-level crime
incidents
Shino Shiode
a
& Narushige Shiode
b
a
Department of Geography, Environment and Development
Studies , Birkbeck College, University of London , London , UK
b
School of Planning and Geography , Cardiff University , Cardiff ,
UK
Published online: 07 Nov 2012.
To cite this article: Shino Shiode & Narushige Shiode (2013) Network-based space-time search-
window technique for hotspot detection of street-level crime incidents, International Journal of
Geographical Information Science, 27:5, 866-882, DOI: 10.1080/13658816.2012.724175
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13658816.2012.724175
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International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 2013
Vol. 27, No. 5, 866882, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13658816.2012.724175
Network-based space-time search-window technique for hotspot
detection of street-level crime incidents
Shino Shiode
a
* and Narushige Shiode
b
a
Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, Birkbeck College, University of
London, London, UK;
b
School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
(Received 17 January 2012; nal version received 20 August 2012)
This study proposes a street-level space-time hotspot detection method to analyse crime
incidents recorded at the street-address level and provides description of the micro-level
variation of crime incidents over space and time. It expands the notion of search-win-
dow techniques widely used in crime science by developing a method that can account
for the spatial-temporal distribution of crime incidents measured in network distance.
The study rst describes the methodological framework by presenting the concept of a
new type of search window and how it is used in the process of statistical testing for
detecting crime hotspots. This is followed by analyses using (1) a simulated distribu-
tion of points along the street network, and (2) a set of real street-crime incident data.
The simulation study demonstrates that the proposed method is effective in identify-
ing space-time hotspots, which include those that are not detected by a non-temporal
method. The empirical analysis of the drug markets and assaults in downtown Buffalo,
New York, revealed a detailed space-time signature of each type of crime, highlight-
ing the recurrent nature of drug dealing at specic locations as well as the sporadic
tendency of assault incidents.
Keywords: space-time hotspot; street address; network; search window
1. Introduction
Recent studies suggest that micro-scale approaches are establishing rm base within the
eld of geography of crime (Taylor 1997, Weisburd et al. 2009a, 2009b, Braga and
Weisburd 2010, Groff et al. 2010). Of the many topics on micro-scale approaches, detec-
tion of crime hotspots, or signicant concentrations of crime incidents, remains a focal
research theme (Sherman and Weisburd 1995, Weisburd and Braga 2006). The enduring
interest in micro-scale crime hotspots exists primarily because the detected hotspots act
as an important indicator for identifying high-risk locations that require further attention
and action, possibly through place-based intervention. Braga et al. (2010) point out that a
growing body of research suggests that hotspot policing focused on micro-places is effec-
tive in reducing crime. In addition, Mazerolle et al. (2006), in their study of intervention by
law enforcements on the street-level drug marketing, refer to problem-oriented policing as
another key geographically focused tactic for targeting micro-space hotspots. The develop-
ment of these policing tactics is indicative of the fact that hotspot detection is considered to
be effective in providing police enforcements with more focused and efcient allocation of
*Corresponding author. Email: s.shiode@bbk.ac.uk
2013 Taylor & Francis
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International Journal of Geographical Information Science 867
their resources to combat crime (Weisburd et al. 2004, Groff et al. 2010). At the same time,
literature has also shown that the distribution pattern, as well as the nature of hotspots,
varies by the type of offence (Krivo and Peterson 1996, Kubrin and Herting 2003, Hipp
2010, Bernasco and Block 2011). These differences have direct relevance to the policing
tactics and, as such, make it vital to accurately identify for each specic type of crime
the exact locations of hotspots. The continued interest in micro-spatial hotspot detection is
also sustained by growing evidence of the presence of crime hotspots at micro-places or
highly localised places (Johnson et al. 2009, Weisburd et al. 2009b). Empirical ndings
indeed conrm the tendency for crime incidents to concentrate in a small number of street
segments (Sherman et al. 1989, Weisburd and Green 1994, Spelman 1995, Weisburd and
Green 1995, Block and Davis 1996, Eck et al. 2000, St. Jean 2007, Braga et al. 2010,
2011).
This study is carried out in this vein to further the micro-scale approach in the geog-
raphy of crime in general, and micro-scale hotspot detection in particular, and aims to
develop a new type of hotspot detection method that allows us to investigate the micro-
spatial concentration of crime incidents within each street segment and also explore their
temporal patterns over a period of time. The study shares the same underlying assump-
tion with other micro-scale approaches that the outcome of crime hotspot detection in a
micro-space setting provides a new insight into the characteristics of crime distributions
with greater precision, which cannot be obtained through the application of a conventional
method that relies on aggregated areal data (Weisburd et al. 2004).
In addition to the notion of spatial concentration of incidents, literature on the geogra-
phy of crime recognises that crime incidents tend to exhibit temporal concentrations also
(Brantingham and Brantingham 1991, Eck and Weisburd 1995, Ratcliffe and McCullagh
1998). Recent studies on micro-scale variations indeed suggest that crime hotspots across
micro-places tend to remain in the same or similar locations over time (Spelman 1995,
Robinson et al. 2003, Johnson and Bowers 2004, Weisburd et al. 2004, 2009b, Groff et al.
2010). They conrm the importance of the simultaneous investigation of the spatial and the
temporal aspects of crime, or the introduction of time-adjusted methods for gaining a more
comprehensive understanding of crime hotspots in a micro-setting (Johnson et al. 2008).
Grubesic and Mark (2008) report that spatial-temporal approaches are not only capable of
supplying additional information about the nature of the offences, but also provide clues
about the behaviour of perpetrators. There are a few studies that focus on micro-scale
space-time analysis including Ratcliffe (2005), who presented a method for measuring the
movement of crime patterns over time using individual crime data. However, compared to
the spatial dimension of crime hotspots, the space-time dimension of crime hotspots still
has much to be investigated.
Ratcliffe (2002) reports that crime hotspots that are close to each other may in fact have
distinctly different temporal patterns from one another. Similarly, Groff et al. (2010) report
that the concentration of a high volume of cases on a street segment may follow a temporal
trajectory that is unrelated to those in its immediate adjacent streets. While these studies
conrm area-to-area or street-to-street variability of the temporal trajectory of crime inci-
dents, the variation can be observed at an even ner scale. For instance, Shiode (2011)
pinpoints a single street address among the entire street network in the study area as the
hottest spot for drug-dealing activities over a 2-year period and identies the location as a
hotbed (chronic locations for call to police) of drug dealing. Based on these ndings, this
study uses street-address-level data for space-time hotspot detection with the assumption
that analysis with disaggregate data could reveal a highly localised variation in the distribu-
tion of crime incidents at a scale that is smaller than street segments. Shiode (2011) points
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868 S. Shiode and N. Shiode
out that the locations of crime incidents are conned by the layout of the street network
and, therefore, would be more appropriate to apply the network metric that is governed
by the structure of and the distance along the street network, as it is expected to improve
the level of accuracy for measuring the spatial relationship between individual crime inci-
dents. There are a number of cases in crime analysis that may be better addressed using the
network metric rather than the two-dimensional (2D) Euclidean metric, and these include
street robbery and street-level drug dealing, among other types of crimes.
Several methods are commonly used for detecting crime hotspots, and these include
local autocorrelation methods (Ratcliffe and McCullagh 1999, Craglia et al. 2000), kernel
density estimation (McLafferty et al. 2000, Ratcliffe 2005, Johnson et al. 2008), k-means
clustering, and Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Crime (STAC) (Block 1995, Block and
Block 1995). STAC is widely used (Rich 1995, Ratcliffe and McCullagh 2001, Williamson
et al. 2001), partly because of the simplicity and clarity of its concept (Block 2000) and
also because it is readily available through a comprehensive crime analysis tool called
CrimeStat (Levine 2010). STAC adopts a search-window approach to carry out hotspot
detection. A conventional, regular search window dened in the 2D space takes the form
of a circular or an ellipsoidal sub-area, which discretely and exhaustively sweeps across
the study area in such a way that the window constantly covers a xed amount of area.
While STAC was designed specically for its application in crime science, the technique
of search-window-type searching itself has been adopted widely in other elds also, owing
to its intuitively comprehensible concept as well as the methodological exibility that facil-
itates its adaptation to other contexts; some notable examples are Geographical Analysis
Machine (GAM), a pioneering work of its kind (Openshaw et al. 1987), and spatial scan
statistics (SaTScan) developed in spatial epidemiology (Kulldorff and Nagarwalla 1995,
Kulldorff 1997, Block 2007) and its variants with more exibility in the shape of their
search window (Duczmal and Assuncao 2004, Patil and Taillie 2004, Tango and Takahashi
2005, Kulldorff et al. 2006, Takahashi et al. 2008). Taking into consideration their preva-
lence in the relevant elds and the methodological adaptability to space-time network
analysis, this study extends the search-window-type methods to accommodate searches
in the network space and also in the temporal dimension of a micro-scale setting with a
scope to offer an alternative to the conventional search-window-type methods, including
GAM and STAC, for crime hotspot detection.
As an example of an extended search-window-type method, Shiode (2011) developed a
network-based, street-level search-window-type method and demonstrated that it can detect
hotspots more accurately and in a more stable manner than the conventional Euclidean-
based methods could when applied to disaggregate, address-level data in a micro-scale
setting. The paper also suggested that adding the temporal information could provide a
clearer picture of the patterns of crime occurrence and made some observation over the
stability of some hotspots over two consecutive time points. However, it failed to simul-
taneously account for the concentration of crime incidents over space and time. In spite
of the presence of a wide range of search-window-type methods, none of them have been
extended to both the network space and the space-time dimension so far.
Network-based analysis is a type of analysis where the network metric plays a key role
in measuring the distance using the shortest-path distance between events that are assumed
to be embedded in the network space. Network-based methods have seen a rapid method-
ological advancement with an increasing range of applications over the last two decades,
and several studies have conrmed the signicance of introducing the network dimension
in the analyses of events observed on a network. Applications of network-based analy-
sis now cover a wide range of research topics such as trafc accident analysis (Okabe
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International Journal of Geographical Information Science 869
and Satoh 2006, Steenberghen et al. 2009, Dai et al. 2010), urban facilities (Okunuki and
Okabe 2003, Shiode 2008, Shiode and Shiode 2009), wildlife fatality (Clevenger et al.
2003, Ramp et al. 2005, Langen et al. 2007), landscape ecology (Spooner et al. 2004,
Maheu-Giroux and de Blois 2007), topography (Shiode and Shiode 2011), health (Shiode
2012) and a host of other applications listed by Okabe and Sugihara (2012); however, its
application in crime analysis is still limited. One of the few attempts has been made by
Okabe et al. (2009), who developed and applied the network-based Kernel density method
to the distribution of crime incidents. Although the events analysed in the above studies
seem to follow a distinct temporal pattern, none of these studies have attempted to incor-
porate the temporal dimension to the analysis of the point pattern in addition to the network
dimension they have accounted for in their studies.
It is against this background that this study proposes a new analytical method for
spatial-temporal analysis of crime hotspots. It builds on a recently developed hotspot detec-
tion method that was designed to analyse non-temporal, street-level spatial distribution of
crime incidents (Shiode 2011) and extends it to the temporal dimension to analyse a disag-
gregate space-time distribution of crime incidents observed on a street network over space
and time.
The rest of the study is organised as follows. The study rst introduces the concept of a
network-based space-time search window by extending the conventional search-window-
type technique to enable micro-scale analysis along the street network across space and
time. A simulation study is conducted to investigate the validity of the proposed method
and its relative advantage over its non-temporal counterpart. This is followed by a case
study using street-address-level data of drug dealing and assaults in Buffalo, New York,
to explore whether the proposed method can help provide an insight into the micro-spatial
and micro-temporal patterns of crime. The study concludes with a summary of ndings
and a discussion on future research directions.
2. Detecting crime hotspots with network-based search windows
This section outlines the conceptual framework as well as the methodological details of the
proposed method. It is aimed at modifying a conventional search-window-type method to
carry out analyses in the space-time dimension whose spatial dimension is conned by the
street network.
2.1. Network-based spatial search window (S
NT
-SW) and network-based space-time
search window (ST
NT
-SW)
A search window introduced in this study generally refers to a sub-area of a xed size
that can be used for sweeping across the study area and detecting high concentration of
crime incidents in a small space. Unlike a conventional search window that usually takes
a circular or ellipsoidal shape, Shiode (2011) proposed a network-based search window
that takes the form of a sub-network, or a collection of line segments, whose total length
remains the same but its form changes and exibly follows the structure of the network as
it sweeps along. While a circular search window is used for sweeping across a study area
dened by the 2D Euclidean plane, a network search window moves along a network and
captures incidents that are found within the extent of the network search window in a single
instance.
The search windows can be also generalised with respect to the temporal duration
they account for. When the notion of a conventional search window is extended to search
through the space-time dimension, it will take the form of a cylindrical search window
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870 S. Shiode and N. Shiode
Euclidean
space-time
search window
Euclidean space
search window
Network-based
space-time
search window
Network-based
space search
window
Figure 1. Illustration of a conventional search window (lower left), a network-based search window
(lower right), a conventional space-time search window (upper left) and a network-based space-time
search window (upper right). The spatial search windows are formed on and sweep across the 2D
plane of the study area, while their space-time equivalents search through the space-time cube.
whose circular segment in the horizontal direction covers the spatial extent while its height
or the amount of vertical extrusion covers the temporal extent (Kulldorff 2001). By apply-
ing the same principle, the notion of a network search window can be also extended and
extruded in the vertical direction along the temporal axis so that it can search through
the space-time dimension. Figure 1 shows an illustrative example of a conventional search
window, a network-based search window, a conventional space-time search window and a
network-based space-time search window. The network-based search window covers part
of the street network in such a way that its total length remains the same, while its space-
time equivalent is formed by extruding it in the vertical direction. Since they are formed
along the street network, both search windows are conned by the layout of the network
and change their shape accordingly as they move along the network. In order to avoid con-
fusion, this study hereafter refers to the network-based spatial search window as S
NT
-SW
and the newly developed network-based space-time search window as ST
NT
-SW.
Suppose that N
s
denotes the entire network in the study area and w
s
is an S
NT
-SW that
sweeps across N
s
. w
s
should satisfy the following conditions:
(1) w
s
is a single continuous sub-network; i.e. any pair of points in w
s
are connected
by at least one path.
(2) w
s
has a xed length c (hereafter called the window size), which is less than or
equal to the total length of the study area; i.e. |w
s
| =c for 0 c |N
s
|, where |w
s
|
denotes the length of w
s
, that is, the total length of all line segments comprising w
s
at any instance.
The denition of ST
NT
-SW can be extended from that of S
NT
-SW. Suppose that N
st
denotes
the entire space-time network of the study area, where N
s
and T represent its spatial extent
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International Journal of Geographical Information Science 871
and its temporal duration, respectively. Let w
st
be an ST
NT
-SW that sweeps across N
st
. w
st
should satisfy the following conditions:
(1) w
st
is a single continuous space-time sub-network; i.e. any pair of points in w
st
are
connected by at least one path.
(2) w
st
has a xed window size, consisting of two constants c in space and t in time,
where c and t are less than or equal to the total length of the given network and
the time period, respectively; i.e. |w
st
| = f (c,t) for 0 c |N
s
| and 0 t |T|,
where |w
st
| denotes the size of w
st
.
Shiode (2011) denes crime hotspots as a nite area along the street network with a
signicant level of elevated crime incident counts that are detected through a statistical
procedure (Shiode 2011, p. 368). This study uses the same denition and assumes, as the
null model for detecting hotspots, homogeneity of the distribution of crime incidents on
N
st
(i.e. no signicant concentration of crime incidents exists along the network). Under
this assumption, a set of points that follow the homogeneous binomial process are gener-
ated on N
st
with parameters n and p, where n is the number of points placed on N
st
(i.e. the
number of crime incidents that took place on N
st
) and p = |w
st
|/|N
st
| (where |w
st
| |N
st
|)
is the ratio of the size of ST
NT
-SW to the overall size of N
st
. Let X
w
st
be the number
of points that fall in w
st
. Then, the probability of nding x number of crime incidents
within w
st
is
P[X
w
st
= x] =
n
C
x
(p)
x
(1 p)
nx
=
n
C
x
(|w
st
|/|N
st
|)
x
(1 |w
st
|/|N
st
|)
nx
,
where x = 0, 1, . . . , n.
(1)
It is known that the probabilities from the binomial distribution can be rounded to those
from the Poisson distribution when n is sufciently large and p is small. By using a large
number of crime incidents and adopting a relatively small w
st
in relation to N
st
, the dif-
ference between the two probability distributions calculated from the data should become
negligible. Therefore, this study assumes the homogeneous Poisson process, i.e.
P[X
w
st
= x] = e

x
x!
, x = 0, 1, . . . , n, = np = n |w
st
| / |N
st
| (2)
where is the expected number of crime incidents within w
st
.
ST
NT
-SW is generated around a set of pre-dened locations hereafter called reference
points. While reference points for S
NT
-SW consist of a set of points identied at a constant
interval along N
s
, reference points for ST
NT
-SW are placed at a constant interval along
N
s
and these are repeated at a constant interval in the vertical direction on N
st
to cover
the entire temporal duration of T. The process of constructing ST
NT
-SW rstly follows
that for S
NT
-SW in the spatial dimension. This is based on the shortest-path tree search
(Dijkstra 1959, Aho et al. 1983), where the search sweep extends from each reference point
in every possible direction along the network paths until the size of the shortest-path tree
(or the cumulative length of all links covered by the search window) reaches |N
s
| (Shiode
2011). Once S
NT
-SW is constructed, it is extended in the temporal direction to match the
pre-dened temporal duration of t.
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872 S. Shiode and N. Shiode
2.2. Hotspot detection with two network-based search-window-type methods:
S
NT
-STAC and ST
NT
-STAC
Using the concept of ST
NT
-SW, this study introduces a new type of hotspot detection
method by developing the space-time network equivalent of a conventional search-window-
type method. Although the method developed in this study has its methodological root in
general search-window techniques, this study will compare the new technique specically
to one of these methods widely used in crime science, STAC (Block 1998, Levine 2010).
The two network-based methods addressed in this study are hereafter called the network-
based spatial STAC (S
NT
-STAC) and the newly developed network-based space-time STAC
(ST
NT
-STAC).
The conventional Euclidean-based STAC uses a circular search window of a xed size
to detect hotspots by identifying places with a signicant concentration of crime incidents
that exceeds a pre-dened threshold, and it then calculates the best-tting standard devia-
tional ellipses (hotspot areas) to represent the detected overlapping search windows. The
conventional STAC takes the following steps to detect hotspots (Block 1998, Craglia et al.
2000, Levine 2010):
(1) Add 400 reference points within the boundary of the study area at a regular interval
by laying out a 20-by-20 grid of points.
(2) Place a circular search window of a predetermined radius around every reference
point.
(3) Count the number of data points captured by the search window at each reference
point location.
(4) Record at most 25 circles that captured more number of data points than the
threshold value.
(5) Sort the recorded search windows in descending order by their point counts. If a
point belongs to more than one search window, all points within the adjacent search
windows will be combined to form a cluster of points known as a hot cluster.
(6) Calculate the best-tting standard deviational ellipses for representing the crime
incidents within each hot cluster.
The procedure for detecting space-time hotspots using ST
NT
-STAC can be designed in
a similar manner. The steps designed specically for ST
NT
-STAC are those on (1) the
positioning of the reference points along N
st
, (2) use of a network-based space-time search
window w
st
, (3) detection of the hotspots through a statistical test using theoretical point
distribution rather than those obtained through Monte Carlo simulations adopted in STAC,
and (4) representation of hotspots in the form of overlapping detected hotspots (i.e. the
network-based space-time equivalent of a hot cluster), rather than the best-tting standard
deviational ellipses. This study sets the threshold value for ST
NT
-STAC at the level that is
statistically signicant under the null model of the space-time Poisson process. Under the
null hypothesis that X
w
st
is an independent Poisson random variable with the expected value
of , the cumulative probability of having at least x number of crime incidents observed in
w
st
is
P[X
w
st
x] = 1 P[X
w
st
< x] = 1

x1
k=0
e

k
k!
(3)
If the cumulative probability calculated for the observed incidents within w
st
is less than the
signicance level , then the null hypothesis is rejected and these incidents are considered
to form a hotspot.
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3. Hotspot detection with a simulated crime incident distribution
A proprietary computer program was coded for executing ST
NT
-STAC. This program was
used in the simulation study as well as the empirical case study described in a later sec-
tion. In order to examine the relative advantage of ST
NT
-STAC in detecting the simulated
hotspots with higher accuracy, S
NT
-STAC proposed by Shiode (2011) was also carried out.
While no direct comparison with the conventional Euclidean-based STAC was performed
in this study, the relative advantage of S
NT
-STAC over Euclidean-based STAC has been
assessed in our previous study (Shiode 2011).
3.1. Simulated clustered point patterns: the space-time Poisson cluster process
In order to examine if the proposed method can accurately detect space-time clusters,
ST
NT
-STAC was applied to a set of simulated point data whose distribution pattern and the
space-time cluster locations within are known. Among the various types of point processes
known in the literature on the spatial point process (Cliff and Ord 1981, Boots and Getis
1988, Cressie 1991), this study adopts the Poisson cluster process (Upton and Fingleton
1985, Diggle 2003). The composition of the Poisson cluster process used in this study fol-
lows that of a regular Poisson cluster process in that it adopts what was originally designed
for a point distribution on a at plane but applies it instead to the network space dened in
the space-time dimension. Adaptation of the Poisson cluster process dened on a at plane
to the network space was carried out by Shiode (2011), and this study further extends it
to that in the space-time dimension, in which a set of points are placed on N
st
. A sim-
ulated distribution of street-crime incidents can be thus produced through the following
three steps:
(1) Generate the reference locations, or parent points (Diggle 2003), around which the
clusters are generated. Identication of the parent points is realised by randomly
placing a xed number of points on N
st
.
(2) Generate a set of points called offspring points (Diggle 2003) around each parent
point. In the space-time setting, a xed number of offspring points are randomly
placed on a set of space-time sub-networks, each of which occupies a xed length
of sub-network and temporal duration on N
st
.
(3) Generate a uniform random distribution of points on N
st
and superimpose them
on the offspring points. This produces a simulated distribution of the locations of
hypothetical crime incidents.
The spatial extent N
s
of N
st
covers the same street network as that used in the simula-
tion analysis by Shiode (2011), which is part of a street network in downtown Buffalo,
New York. It consists of a street network that covers a total of 41,530 ft of street seg-
ments within a rectangular study area of 3000 ft by 2500 ft. This study adds the temporal
dimension to the study area and sets the time frame of N
st
at one year. Figure 2 shows
the simulated space-time Poisson cluster points, where 12 locations are randomly selected
as the parent points (Figure 2a) which identify the respective line segment to host the
offspring points in the spatial direction, and each parent point is assigned a different
month of the year to give temporal variation. A total of 200 offspring points are randomly
assigned between the 12 space-time sub-networks (Figure 2b). Finally, 100 points are ran-
domly placed on N
st
, which, together with the offspring points, form an inhomogeneous
space-time Poisson clustered point pattern consisting of 300 points in the space-time cube
(Figure 2c and d).
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September
January
February
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
March
November
October
April
August
July
June
May
December
September
January
February
March
November
October
April
August
July
June
May
December
Figure 2. A simulated distribution of 300 space-time Poisson clustered points generated along the
street network of downtown Buffalo, New York, to represent hypothetical street-crime incidents: (a)
12 parent points (white circles) and the respective street line segment each point is contained within
(grey lines), which serve as the space-time sub-networks to be populated with hypothetical crime
hotspots, (b) a 3D projection of 200 offspring points randomly assigned across the 12 space-time
sub-networks and presented in the space-time cube, (c) a 2D projection of 300 space-time Poisson
clustered points obtained by superimposing 100 randomly generated points (grey dots) on the 200 off-
spring points (black dots), and (d) a 3D projection of the 300 space-time Poisson clustered points
presented in the space-time cube.
3.2. Application of ST
NT
-STAC and S
NT
-STAC to the simulated point distribution
Using the simulated clustered point distribution, the performance of ST
NT
-STAC is com-
pared with that of S
NT
-STAC. In order to apply the two methods under the same condition,
reference points for S
NT
-STAC are generated by placing points at every 100 ft over N
s
which produces approximately 400 reference points, whereas the reference points for
ST
NT
-STAC are generated at the same locations as those for S
NT
-STAC for the spatial
dimension and approximately 360 points along the temporal dimension. The size of w
s
should be larger than the interval between the reference points so that there will be a suf-
cient amount of overlap between the nearby search windows, yet small enough to be able
to detect spatial variations within a single street segment. The spatial extent of w
st
should
be consistent with that of w
s
and its temporal duration should be decided at a length that
allows detection of a sufcient number of incidents to form a hotspot, yet short enough to
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International Journal of Geographical Information Science 875
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
(a) (b)
Figure 3. The spatial and the spatial-temporal hotspots detected respectively with S
NT
-STAC and
ST
NT
-STAC among the simulated distribution of 300 space-time Poisson clustered points generated
along the street network of downtown Buffalo, New York: (a) a 2D projection of the network-based
spatial hotspots (green lines) and the network-based space-time hotspots (red lines) and (b) a 3D
projection of space-time distribution of the 300 hypothetical crime incidents in dots using gradated
colours (the warmer the colour, the later in the year the incident took place) and the network-based
space-time hotspots (blue rectangles).
be able to detect short-term outbursts of crime incidents. The size of the search window
was determined through an exploratory process, and after several attempts at nding the
right balance, it was xed at 300 ft for w
s
and at 300 ft and 14 days for w
st
.
Figure 3a compares the hotspots detected by S
NT
-STAC(green lines) and those detected
by ST
NT
-STAC (red lines). They are the results of hypothesis testing at 5% signicance
level for both methods after correcting the signicance level to achieve an overall 5%
of the signicance level through Bonferroni adjustments for the effect of multiple test-
ing. Figure 3b shows a 3D projection of the simulated point distribution and the hotspots
detected by ST
NT
-STAC (blue rectangles). Visual examination of the gures reveals the
following:
(1) ST
NT
-STAC detected 11 clusters and S
NT
-STAC detected 10 clusters out of the
12 hotspots produced in the simulated distribution. Neither method succeeded
in detecting the simulated cluster for August. This is primarily because, during
the process of scattering random points uniformly among all offspring points,
the space-time sub-network for August received less number of points by chance
compared to the other locations.
(2) ST
NT
-STAC detected the simulated space-time hotspot for December, whereas
S
NT
-STAC failed to detect it as a spatial hotspot. This conrms that ST
NT
-STAC
can detect hotspots more accurately in a micro-spatial and micro-temporal setting.
The space-time hotspots detected by ST
NT
-STAC provide additional description to the
detected spatial hotspots as to when they form hotspots within the given temporal dura-
tion. The results also demonstrate that ST
NT
-STAC can detect space-time hotspots that are
not spatially clustered, which suggests that some concentrations of crime incidents that are
focused to specic space-time spots may remain undetected if only S
NT
-STAC were to be
applied.
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876 S. Shiode and N. Shiode
4. Case study on drug dealing and assault incidents
Following the outcome of the simulation study that conrmed the signicance of
ST
NT
-STAC, this section applies both methods to the empirical analysis of street-crime
data to gain an insight into their distributions and further verication of the signicance of
ST
NT
-STAC.
4.1. Data description
The study area used in this case study is a relatively compact urban area of 5000 ft by
5000 ft square, taken from the downtown area of City of Buffalo, New York. The street
network in the study area runs for a total length of 52,574 ft. The data used in this study are
call-for-service records (911 emergency call records) from downtown Buffalo including
the study area in 1996. Among the various types of offences in the 911 records, this study
addresses two types of common crimes: drug dealing and assaults. Both are high-volume
offences but are expected to show a stark contrast in their distribution patterns, which may
help illustrate how the proposed methods detect hotspots differently, if at all, for differ-
ent distribution patterns. Within the study area, 410 cases of drug-dealing incidents and
550 cases of assault incidents were recorded in 1996.
4.2. Applying ST
NT
-STAC and S
NT
-STAC
As in the case of the simulated point data, some of the parameters require adjustments prior
to the application of the network-based methods. In the case of ST
NT
-STAC, the reference
points are placed at a 150 ft interval along the street network of the study area to gener-
ate a total of approximately 850 points, and searches are made around all reference points
using S
NT
-SW of 300 ft, which is decided at a level that is sufciently small for detecting
hotspots formed at a scale smaller than each street segment. ST
NT
-STAC searches around
the reference points of approximately 850 points in the spatial dimension and approxi-
mately 350 points in the temporal dimension, with ST
NT
-SW of 300 ft and 14 days, which
is also decided at a level that is sufciently small for the purpose of the analysis.
Figure 4a and b shows the results from the application of S
NT
-STAC and ST
NT
-STAC
on the drug-dealing cases. S
NT
-STAC revealed that 9.6% of the entire street network
were detected as signicant hotspots, conrming that crime is highly concentrated on
micro-places, as suggested in the literature. ST
NT
-STAC revealed that only 0.25% of the
space-time network were detected as signicant space-time hotspots, which indicates that
the space-time hotspots are concentrated in an even smaller number of specic space-time
places. Secondly, the distribution pattern of the space-time hotspots detected through ST
NT
-
STAC gave a deeper insight into the description of these hotspots than the non-temporal
spatial hotspots did. For instance, the recurrent appearance of space-time hotspots around
the centre of the study area revealed the stable and persistent nature of the drug markets.
While both ST
NT
-STAC and S
NT
-STAC have successfully detected the hotspots at these
locations, S
NT
-STAC did not provide information on their temporal patterns (Figure 4a).
Finally, the comparison between the outcomes of the analysis using the two methods
revealed that many of the spatial hotspot locations were undetected under the space-time
search (Figure 4b). This suggests that the majority of non-temporal spatial hotspots are
formed by crime incidents with low temporal concentration but are sufciently high in
volume when aggregated over the entire study period.
The two methods were also used for analysing the distribution of assault incidents. The
results show quite different patterns of hotspot locations from those of the drug markets
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(a) (b)
Figure 4. The spatial and the spatial-temporal hotspots detected respectively with S
NT
-STAC
and ST
NT
-STAC among the 410 cases of drug-dealing incidents recorded in downtown Buffalo,
New York, in 1996: (a) a 2D projection of the network-based spatial hotspots (green lines) and the
network-based space-time hotspots (red lines) of drug-dealing incidents and (b) a 3D projection of
the space-time distribution of the drug-dealing incidents in dots using gradated colours (the warmer
the colour, the later in the year the incident took place) and the network-based space-time hotspots
(brown rectangles).
(a) (b)
Figure 5. The spatial and the spatial-temporal hotspots detected respectively with S
NT
-STAC and
ST
NT
-STAC among the 550 cases of assault incidents recorded in downtown Buffalo, New York,
in 1996: (a) a 2D projection of the network-based spatial hotspots (green lines) and the network-
based space-time hotspots (red lines) of assault incidents and (b) a 3D projection of the space-time
distribution of the assault incidents in dots using gradated colours (the warmer the colour, the later
in the year the incident took place) and the network-based space-time hotspots (blue rectangles).
(Figure 5a and b). In the case of assaults, 6.0% of the street network were detected as
signicant non-temporal spatial hotspots, whereas 0.09% of the space-time network were
detected as signicant space-time hotspots. This means that ST
NT
-STAC identied even a
smaller portion of the space-time network as signicant space-time hotspots compared to
the case of drug dealing for which 0.25% of the entire network were detected as space-time
hotspots. It also showed that, unlike the drug markets, no recurrent space-time hotspots of
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878 S. Shiode and N. Shiode
assaults were observed at a single location. In fact, ST
NT
-STAC detected only three space-
time hotspots (Figure 5b) whose temporal duration was 17, 12 and 21 days, respectively
(days 111127, 169190 and 240260), which suggests that assaults are more scattered
across the ST-NT cube than drug dealing is. In addition, as in the case of the simulation
analysis, ST
NT
-STAC detected a space-time hotspot that was not picked up by S
NT
-STAC
as a spatial hotspot. This is due to a sudden surge in the number of offences over a short
period of time (JulyAugust). While this particular space-time hotspot does not show an
excessively high concentration of offences, it demonstrates the capacity of ST
NT
-STAC to
detect spatially non-signicant but spatially and temporally signicant hotspots.
5. Conclusions
This study developed ST
NT
-STAC, a network-based, space-time hotspot detection method
that extended the notion of search-window-type methods. The study rst described the
conceptual as well as the methodological framework of the newmethods, and it then carried
out analyses using two sets of data: (1) a simulated space-time clustered point distribution
and (2) street-crime incident data from Buffalo, New York.
The results from the simulation study suggest that the proposed method can detect the
space-time crime hotspots at the street-address level more accurately than its non-temporal
counterpart could, pinpointing where and when crime incidents are concentrated. It also
gives an insight into the pattern of concentration and dispersion of the incidents within
each spatial hotspot during the study period. The detected space-time hotspots provide
additional information on time and location that require focused attention at the street level.
For instance, they may be linked to crime-inducing factors that are space-time specic.
Identifying the pattern of space-time hotspot occurrences may help reveal such factors,
thus contributing to the future planning of crime-reducing strategies.
The case study using the empirical data illustrated the contrast between the distribution
pattern of two types of street crime: drug dealing and assaults. The recurrent appearance of
space-time hotspots of drug dealing in specic locations conrms the stability of drug mar-
kets. The empirical analysis also revealed the scattered nature of assault incidents, which
formed a much smaller number of space-time hotspots with no recurrent concentration.
This result suggests that a highly focused investigation on specic space-time hotspots
may prove less effective for this type of crime.
Finally, both the simulation study and the case study demonstrated that space-time
hotspots may be detected with ST
NT
-STAC at locations where no signicant spatial
hotspots were found with S
NT
-STAC. These space-time hotspots are formed primarily
by a sudden increase in the number of offences that lasted for only a short period of
time. Although they were not detected as signicant non-temporal spatial hotspots, a close
examination of circumstances surrounding these occurrences may help prevent or reduce
the repetition of such spatially and temporally concentrated outbursts of crime in future.
Interestingly, the case study also showed an opposite scenario; that is, some spatial hotspot
locations were found by S
NT
-STAC in places where no signicant space-time hotspots were
detected by ST
NT
-STAC. This indicates that a sufcient number of incidents were recorded
in a small area, but no signicant concentration within a short period of time was observed
among these incidents, thus conrming the presence of warm spots, or areas with persis-
tent occurrence of crime incidents that also require attention. Both scenarios demonstrate
that using the two network-based methods together and comparing the difference in their
outcomes can help reveal more detailed micro-scale characteristics on crime patterns that
would have otherwise remained undiscovered.
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There are several limitations and possible future directions stemming from this study.
First, the method developed in this study does not account for the relative risk, or the
proportion of the crime incidents to population at risk in the respective area. The raw
crime counts and relative risk play an equally important role in policing scenes, as the
former is useful for the effective deployment of police resources to meet operational needs
(Craglia et al. 2000), while the latter is useful for devising an effective policing strategy for
crime reduction in areas with elevated risk of victimisation. Methodologically, it is possible
to incorporate the relative risk within a more general framework of search-window-type
methods; however, the nature of the relative risk varies by the type of crime and estimation
of the relative risk assumes knowledge of the underlying geography including the local
landscape and environment as well as activities that take place within the area. As the
primary purpose of this study is to propose a new method, estimation of the relative risk
in a specic crime context is beyond its scope, even though it would form an interesting
future challenge.
Second, as with many other search-window-type methods, multiple testing is an issue
for the method proposed in this study. Bonferroni adjustments are known to be conserva-
tive for highly correlated test statistics such as those derived in this study. If a less biased
signicance level were to be applied, it is expected that more hotspots are detected as statis-
tically signicant. A test with less conservative correction would detect hotspots obtained
with Bonferroni adjustments as well as additional hotspots, which together may provide
more useful information for practical policing. The method would therefore benet from
investigating the application of less biased approaches. These include the application of
(1) an alternative method that is more suitable for an adjustment for multiple and depen-
dent tests such as the false discovery rate controlling procedure and its variants, and those
recently developed for controlling large-scale multiple testing; or (2) a statistical method
similar to those adopted in scan-statistic-type methods.
Third, the computer program developed in this study enables further testing of the
robustness of the method. For instance, the proposed methodology was assessed with only a
single pattern of simulated clusters. It is worth investigating whether the difference between
ST
NT
-STAC and S
NT
-STAC shown in this paper would be sustained for different sets of
simulated data with different space-time characteristics. Use of other empirical data would
also help discover the space-time characteristics of crime incidents which were previously
unknown. This includes (1) a follow-up on the differences between assaults and drug-
dealing offences found in this study, (2) investigations of different space-time concentration
patterns of different crime types, and (3) investigations of the temporal characteristics of
crime occurrences such as the effects of seasonality and periodicity.
Finally, the set of parameters used in the empirical analysis would benet from further
calibration. The size of the space-time search window, for instance, can be generalised and
made variable. Although Shiode (2011) indicates that a small change in the size of the
spatial search window does not signicantly alter the location or the size of the hotspots
detected, variation in the size of the search window within its possible range and its impact
on the outcome should be explored more systematically. The same applies to the temporal
dimension of the search window, whose sensitivity to the size of the space-time search
window should be also examined further.
Acknowledgements
The authors greatly appreciate the valuable advice and comments from the anonymous referees. This
research was supported in part by the Canon Foundation in Europe.
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