marcos oliveira
The scaling of crime concentration in cities

Crime is a major threat to society’s well-being but lacks a statistical characterization that could lead to uncovering some of its underlying mechanisms. Evidence of nonlinear scaling of urban indicators in cities, such as wages and serious crime, has motivated the understanding of cities as complex systems—a perspective that offers insights into resources limits and sustainability, but that usually neglects details of the indicators themselves. Notably, since the nineteenth century, criminal activities have been known to occur unevenly within a city; crime concentrates in such way that most of the offenses take place in few regions of the city. Though confirmed by different studies, this concentration lacks broad analyses on its characteristics, which hinders not only the comprehension of crime dynamics but also the proposal of sounding counter-measures. Here, we developed a framework to characterize crime concentration which divides cities into regions with the same population size. We used disaggregated criminal data from 25 locations in the U.S. and the U.K., spanning from 2 to 15 years of longitudinal data. Our results confirmed that crime concentrates regardless of city and revealed that the level of concentration does not scale with city size. We found that the distribution of crime in a city can be approximated by a power-law distribution with exponent α that depends on the type of crime. In particular, our results showed that thefts tend to concentrate more than robberies, and robberies more than burglaries. Though criminal activities present regularities of concentration, we found that criminal ranks have the tendency to change continuously over time—features that support the perspective of crime as a complex system and demand analyses and evolving urban policies covering the city as a whole.