Crime Hot Spots: From Prediction to Enforcement

Kansas City is well-known for high crime rates; especially violent crime. Recent figures put the city in the top 15 in a national ranking for violent crime and homicide. What’s more is that violent crime tends to cluster in very specific areas of the city (called “hot spots”). The heat maps above show these crime hot spots as they appear in Kansas City. These neighborhoods include the Central Business District, the Old Northeast, Blue Valley, Ivanhoe-Oak Park, and Westport.

The Cause of Crime

Crime is a complex social phenomenon with a myriad of factors going into it, making it difficult to point to one specific influence. However, all of Kansas City’s crime hot spots have a common factor that has shown positive influences on violent crime: social disorder. Areas with constant movement of people, lack of social familiarity, or general lack of ”neighborly” characteristics, give the impression of little resistance to any sort of criminal offense. All of the areas on the map have varying degrees of social disorder, though many may also show characteristics of vibrant communities.

Westport and parts of the Central Business District, for instance, are nightlife districts, causing a constant flux of people moving in and out of the area (especially people who have been drinking). Though other neighborhoods such as The Old Northeast, Blue Valley, and Ivanhoe-Oak Park don’t experience as much raucous nightlife, they do have high vacancy rates and prolific poverty. The disorder in these neighborhoods is caused more by desperation and stress resulting from economic disparity and resource scarcity. Often, these characteristics are residuals from historic racism and oppression (as is often the case in most inner city slum areas).

All of these districts, except perhaps the Central Business District, may also have an element of “broken windows” to them. Broken windows is the visually observable manifestation of social disorder; an environment with the appearance of decay sends the message that nobody cares for it, and thus will not take measures to prevent or stop crime. The problem with using broken windows to explain crime is that there is a sort of chicken-and-egg complex. Does the urban landscape decay because there is abundant crime and people give up on the area? Or is a decaying structural environment a cause of crime, rather than an effect? No matter how it’s cut up, it can be said that broken windows and crime are self-reinforcing.

It may be a difficult task to accurately identify root causes of crime in Kansas City’s hot-spot areas, but crime hot spots do make crime easier to study, and turn crime-preventative resource allocation into a more manageable task. As with almost anything, knowing “where” is half the battle.


Data taken from KCPD and KCMO parcel viewer. Crime instances were geocoded in QGIS. A graphical heat map was then produced in QGIS and edited in Adobe Photoshop.

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