GEOG 882
Geographic Foundations of Geospatial Intelligence

10.3 Geospatial Intelligence in Law Enforcement Analysis


Law enforcement analysis promotes effective policing in areas such as conducting investigations and intelligence operations, planning and managing resources, and deterring criminal activity. Geographic information science and technology (GIS&T) and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) assist in these areas. From the beginning of an investigation to its conclusion, analysis can aid in determining what is needed in an investigation and where it can be collected. Analytical charts, maps, and reports help guide the operation. Analysis can identify crime trends and provide strategic assessments that assist policy makers in resource allocation and long-term planning. Law enforcement analysis supports the deterrence and prevention of crime through identifying patterns of criminal incidents, forecasting threats to the community, assisting in the effective deployment of patrol resources, and supporting community policing efforts.

Before discussing the various applications of GIS&T and GEOINT in law enforcement analysis, it is useful to examine several behavioral theories, looking at them from a geospatial perspective. These theories are not discussed in detail but they do build upon each other. The material includes references for additional research. Individuals who have studied criminology might be familiar with these theories. These theories also have applications to studying terrorism. 

Behavioral Theories from a Geospatial Perspective

Rational Choice

"Choices are made based on opportunities and rewards."

George Homans built a series of explanatory principles based on an assumption that people make rational choices about how to maximize benefits in light of their priorities. This perspective suggests that individuals, such as criminals and terrorists, will select their targets and define the means to achieve their goals in an explainable manner. (Homans, G. 1974. Social Behavior, Its Elementary Forms, 2nd ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich)

Routine Activity

"Opportunities change based on changes in behavior."

Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson studied crime as an event and highlighted the relationship of these events to space and time.  Routine activity theory explains an event through three essential elements that converge in space and time – the potential offender with the capacity to commit an offense, a suitable target or victim, and the absence of guardians capable of protecting the target or victim. (Cohen, L. & Felson, M. 1979. Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American Sociological Review, 44, 588-608)

Crime Pattern

"Crimes occur where offender’s space overlaps with victim’s space."

Crime pattern theory highlights spatial ties connecting crime, targets, and patterns of movement of offenders. The theory relates that offenders commit crimes near areas where they spend most of their time and along routes that connect them. The concept of space is essential to crime pattern theory because the characteristics of spaces influence the likelihood of a crime. (Brantingham, P. L. & Brantingham, P. J. 1993. Environmental, routine, and situation: Toward a pattern theory of crime. Advances in Criminological Theory 5: 259-294)

Environmental Design

"Identify and alter geographical characteristics that contribute to criminal predation."

Crime prevention through environmental design is a micro/neighborhood approach at identifying conditions of the physical and social environment that provide opportunities for criminality. It uses such mechanisms as real and symbolic barriers, defined areas of influence, and opportunities for surveillance to bring an environment under the control of its residents (Jeffrey, C. R. 1971. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Newman, O. 1973. Defensible Space. New York: Collier Books)