Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Step 1: Understanding local crime and crime patterns

Understanding local crime and crime patterns will be central to decisions about how crime can be prevented and the potential role that a public space CCTV system will have in an overall crime prevention regime. Deciding if the volume and nature of crime deserves, and will be positively affected by, a public space CCTV system requires detailed insights into local crime trends.

Under-reporting and recording of crime

It is widely accepted and understood that many crimes are never reported to, or recorded by, police. Any analysis of crime data must acknowledge the associated limitations.

The low level of reporting of some offences is demonstrated in Australian Crime: Facts & Figures 2008 (AIC 2009). Based on victimisation surveys:

  • Motor vehicle thefts (90%), followed by home break-ins (74%), were reported more often to police than other major categories of crime.
  • Robbery (39%), attempted break-in (31%) and assault (31%) were less likely to be reported by victims to the police.

Consideration must be given to this 'dark figure' of crime (ie level of unreported and unrecorded crime) when interpreting recorded crime data. Adjusting for the low levels of reporting of offences against the person will ensure a more accurate picture is developed.

To develop a comprehensive understanding of local crime and crime patterns, the following should be considered:

  • long-term crime trends in the area;
  • spatial distribution of crime; and
  • temporal crime trends.

Long-term crime trends in the area

It will be important to gain an understanding of the number and rate of different offence types in the identified area over an extended period (ideally five to 10 years). Establishing the long-term trends in particular crimes will help to determine if the existing crime levels warrant investment in a public space CCTV system and whether, once operational, the system will contribute to a reduction in crime.

Given the sheer number of crime categories, it might be beneficial to limit the number of offences included in the analysis. For example, it is unlikely that travelling on public transport without a ticket would be positively affected by the installation of a public space CCTV system, despite it being likely that a high number of these offences will be recorded in a CBD. Consequently, the data analysis might exclude less relevant offences.

A challenge often confronted in accessing crime data of this nature is the discrete geographical area of interest. Police, however, may be in a position to provide data linked to specific geographical areas.

Spatial distribution of crime

Crime mapping techniques have improved markedly in recent years. Crime maps reveal important spatial relationships, like the clustering of particular offences in particular locations (often known as hot spots), the relationship between offences and infrastructure, such as train stations, and potential relationships between various offences (eg drug supply and street robberies). Detailed spatial analysis will demonstrate where offences are concentrated, which will provide insight into potential camera locations.

Crime mapping

Some central agencies responsible for the collection and analysis of crime data also provide access to crime maps. For example, the South Australian Office of Crime Statistics and Research (OCSAR) operates a crime-mapping function from their website. This enables analysis of the spatial distribution of crime.

Not all Australian jurisdictions have such advanced publicly available information. However, local police generally utilise mapping capabilities and may be able to assist with spatial analysis of local crime.

While great advances have been made in crime mapping, it is important to recognise the limitations of spatial crime data. The following example demonstrates the potential limitations:

A crime occurs in a particular location. That crime will be reported to police, at which time a geographical location will be provided (the corner of Smith and Jones Streets, Harmony Heights). The offence is then geo-coded to link it to the particular spot where the offence occurred. However, for areas like parks, malls, shopping centres and similarly large venues, the accuracy of the spatial information provided is often less reliable. All offences in a mall might be linked to a central point in that mall or all offences in a shopping centre might be linked to the front entrance. This can be problematic when trying to specifically highlight spatial dimensions of crime.

Temporal analysis

Crime is not distributed randomly or evenly over time. Rather, there are times, days and seasons when particular crimes are more likely to be committed. Areas that support a late-night economy will generally have elevated numbers of assaults on Friday and Saturday evenings, due to increased movement of people and increased levels of intoxication at these times (Graham & Homel 2008). Understanding the temporal trends in crime can help guide when cameras are monitored and the type of cameras to be located in particular areas. For example, more sophisticated cameras with the ability to zoom in and to capture good images at night might be required near late-night economy locations.

A detailed understanding of local crime patterns and trends will provide the basis for considering the steps outlined in this manual.

Box 3: Making a crime data request

A detailed understanding of local crime patterns and temporal trends can assist in determining where a CCTV system may be best placed. Local crime data is one resource that can be used in such an analysis. Police are the main agency responsible for collating local crime data and councils and other organisations looking to implement a CCTV system can make a crime data request to police. In order to obtain the most relevant information, requests for crime data should be clear and specific about the information needed.

Generally, most data requests should ask for information covering offences. For example, the type of offences, the number of offences that occurred in a specific area over a given period and the time and date of offences. This will provide annual trends across particular crime types within the specified area.

Crime data requests can also provide information on perpetrators and victims of specific offences within a given location. This may provide beneficial insights into the dynamics of offending in an area.

Another key field should be the time period the crime data will cover. For example, a 12 month period may be all that is required to sufficiently highlight spatial and temporal trends. The time period should also reduce the volume of records that will be included in the file to a more manageable size for analysis. The format of the data, such as knowing the type of file the data will be provided in, will ensure appropriate analysis can be conducted.

Box 4: Real life example 1—Engaging with the key target audience and combining CCTV with other community development strategies (City of Gosnells, WA)

The City of Gosnells employed a strategic approach when looking at undertaking work at the Thornlie Precinct. As one of the major concerns was the interaction between activities within the skate park area and the users of the adjacent facilities, the city consulted with young patrons of the skate park as well as users of adjacent facilities. This occurred mainly through two youth services officers employed by the city who regularly attended the skate park and interacted with the young people there, including teaching them new skate tricks. From this interaction, the city was able to identify exactly what improvements the youth would like to see at the skate park and surrounding area, and how they felt about crime, graffiti and other community safety-related issues. This was the main strategy in getting the youth involved as it gave them a sense of ownership of the issues and provided a way for them to suggest solutions which would potentially reduce acts of antisocial behaviour in the future.

Extensive community consultation has also occurred throughout the project, with ongoing communications including emails and surveys on how the community felt the project was coming along (which will be continued). The survey feedback was obtained from young people using the skate park, those using the car park, accessing the library, shops and leisure centre, as well as local business operators and police.

The City of Gosnells developed a marketing strategy which included newspaper advertisements to increase the number of positive media reports and decrease the number of negative reports relating to community crime and behaviour in the area and mobile phone SMS messages to young people about the status of the project.

In the future, the City of Gosnells will look for the following as indicators that their project has had positive impacts:

  • fewer reports to police of antisocial behaviour occurring in the Thornlie Precinct;
  • an increase in the number of young people using the facilities in a productive way in the area;
  • an increase in the number of positive media reports; and
  • a decrease in the number of negative media reports relating to crime and antisocial behaviour occurring on site.