Criminal Geography

Even if you do not have a mother/relative who is Jewish and from the Bronx, with a maiden-name that literally translates from German as “worry,” I’ll bet that you can empathize in some way with a childhood spent lovingly smothered by warnings of the dangers lurking within any given scenario – with special emphasis on random and violent crime. Abductions! muggings! rape! oh my!! (Love you mom, you’re great.)

More than crime itself, fear of crime has extraordinary power to transform the character of a place. Based on hearsay, news reports, or even personal judgment of people and/or the built environment, we come to know certain parks, alleys, and stretches of blocks as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. If you accept how Mr. Maslow prioritizes human needs, then you agree that the need for personal safety is a very fundamental one – right above basic physiological functions like breathing, heart-beating, etc. Thus, few things affect our behavior and world-view as pervasively as fear of crime. Collectively, these attitudes help drive the presence/absence of disinvestment and casual surveillance that make neighborhoods thrive or…dive?

I obtained crime data from the past 6 months within the city of Buffalo from, a web service that Buffalo’s police department has partnered with in making crime data publicly available. However, this service only allows users to see 500 crimes at a time, and/or up to a maximum of 30 days in time period. I wanted to see more general trends, and so compiled this data for the past 6 months (the farthest back for which data is available) by copying and pasting the listings in 500-crime increments into a text file, which I then geocoded.


Of the 8,084 crimes reported within Buffalo within the past 6 months (9/24/2012-3/23/2013), 3,644 or 45% of them were thefts. The most crime-ridden day was 10/10/2012 (81 crimes reported), and the most common time associated with a crime was 12 pm (692 crimes), followed by 9 am (207). This time data is a little funky – a huge chunk of the day is missing (1pm to midnight), and I can’t find any metadata to specify whether this field referred to the time the crime was committed or when it was reported. So I haven’t looked  at any ‘time of day’ patterns too closely.


Buffalo’s crimes are classified into the following categories, noted with the % of crimes reported  within the past 6 months that fall within each category. I paraphrased crime type definitions from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook.

  • Theft (45%): Completed or attempted theft of property or cash without personal contact.
  • Breaking & Entering (22%): the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft.
  • Assault (18%): Attack on one person by another. Includes both aggravated assault (for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury) and simple assault (does not feature weapons or serious injury)
  • Robbery (7%): involves a theft/larceny but is aggravated by the element of force or threat of force.
  • Theft of Vehicle (7%): …yep, like it sounds, theft of a vehicle.
  • Other (1%): Includes Theft from vehicle, Homicide, Sexual Offense, Property Crime-both commercial and residential


The chart below shows the number of crimes reported by week, from late September to late March. I expected to see a spike in crime (particularly thefts) in November and December, preceding the holiday season, but this was not the case. In fact, there has been an overall though slight downward trend in the number of weekly crimes reported since late September.

Crimes by Date


The single location with the most crimes reported (42) was the 2100 block of Elmwood Ave – which is not in the Elmwood Village, but north of Hertel and surrounded by the parking lots of a Home Depot and other stripmall outlets. The 2600 block of Delaware Ave came in 2nd place (41 crimes), and is a similarly sprawled parking-lot-scape, as is the 600 block of Amherst Street (35 crimes). In each of these top-three crime locales, over 85% of reported crimes were thefts, presumably from the surrounding big-box stores.

If you are interested in zooming in to particular parts of the city to look at the data in greater detail, see the google map below. Crimes are color-coded by type (the three most common types), and if you click on each point you can also see the crime date, time, other notes, and the number of crimes committed at that location. At this time, Google maps is unable to differentiate points that occur in the same location. So, for example, the 42 crimes that occurred on the 2100 block of Elmwood Ave are in this map represented as one point, though the #Crimes@Location field does indicate that 42 crimes were reported there.

Crimes Reported in Buffalo, NY, 9/24/2012 – 3/23/2013:
Buffalo Crimes

To examine the distribution of crime beyond the scope of singular addresses, I created heat maps. These show the relative concentrations of crime incidents within a half-kilometer radius from each point throughout the city. The map below represents total crime, and is followed by maps showing the relative concentrations of the three most common types of crimes: thefts, breaking & entering, and assaults. Across all crime types, the two main hot spots in the city are the center of downtown (centering around City Hall), and the intersection of Genesee and the railroad east of Bailey Ave.

Buffalo Total Crime





About katosulliv

Transportation, mapping, and cities enthusiast.
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