Crime Concentration and Hot Spot Dynamics in Latin America

Jun 2016
Latin America and the Caribbean is the most violent region in the world, with an annual homicide rate of more than 20 per 100,000 population and with an increasing trend. Yet most evidence of crime concentration, geo-temporal patterns, and event dependence comes from cities in high-income countries. Understanding crime patterns in the region and how they compare to those in high-income countries is of first-order importance to formulate crime reduction policies. This paper is the first to analyze crime patterns of cities in five Latin American countries. Using micro-geographic units of analysis, the paper finds, first, that crime in Latin America is highly concentrated in a small proportion of blocks: 50 percent of crimes are concentrated in 3 to 7.5 percent of street segments, and 25 percent of crimes are concentrated in 0.5 to 2.9 percent of street segments. This validates Weisburd's "law of crime concentration at place" (Weisburd, 2105). These figures are fairly constant over time but sensitive to major police reforms. The second finding is that hot spots of crime are not always persistent. Crime is constantly prevalent in certain areas, but in other areas hot spots either appear or disappear, suggesting a possible rational adaptation from criminals to police actions that cause crime displacement in the medium run to other areas. Finally, the paper finds a significant pattern of repeated crime victimization in location and time for property crimes. There are striking similarities with the developed world in crime concentration, although crime levels are much higher and usually increasing. There are also some differences in terms of the persistence of hot spots that pose interesting policy implications and avenues for future research.