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Linking commercial burglaries by modus operandi: Tests using regression and ROC Analysis

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This paper uses statistical models to test directly the police practice of utilising modus operandi to link crimes to a common offender. Data from 86 solved commercial burglaries committed by 43 offenders are analysed using logistic regression analysis to identify behavioural features that reliably distinguish between linked and unlinked crime pairs. Receiver operating characteristic analysis is then used to assign each behavioural feature an overall level of predictive accuracy. The results indicate that certain features, in particular the distances between burglary locations, lead to high levels of predictive accuracy. This study therefore reveals some of the important consistencies in commercial burglary behaviour. These have theoretical value in helping to explain criminal activity. They also have practical value by providing the basis for a diagnostic tool that could be used in comparative case analysis.
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... This method is used to determine the linkage status of crime pairs (whether they were committed by the same vs. different offenders) based on the degree of behavioural similarity exhibited across the crimes (Bennell and Canter 2002). In a typical study, the across-crime similarity is assessed for behaviours falling into different domains (e.g. ...
... For example, a LR model might always result in a prediction that two crimes are linked when the distance between those crimes is small (e.g. Bennell and Canter 2002), whereas practitioners will know, and research has consistently confirmed, that some crimes committed far apart are the work of the same offender (e.g. Lundrigan et al. 2010). ...
... A common concern in crime linkage research is that prolific offenders may disproportionately influence the linking models developed (Bennell and Canter 2002). Researchers have typically controlled for prolific offenders by selecting a constant number of crimes per offender (Bennell and Canter 2002). ...
Article
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Studies have shown that it is possible to link serial crimes in an accurate fashion based on the statistical analysis of crime scene information. Logistic regression (LR) is one of the most common statistical methods in use and yields relatively accurate linking decisions. However, some research suggests there may be added value in using classification tree (CT) analysis to discriminate between offences committed by the same vs. different offenders. This study explored how three variations of CT analysis can be applied to the crime linkage task. Drawing on a sample of serial sexual assaults from Quebec, Canada, we examine the predictive accuracy of standard, iterative, and multiple CTs, and we contrast the results with LR analysis. Our results revealed that all statistical approaches achieved relatively high (and similar) levels of predictive accuracy, but CTs produce idiographic linking strategies that may be more appealing to practitioners. Future research will need to examine if and how these CTs can be useful as decision aides in operational settings.
... The knowledge provided in this chapter will continue to build upon these studies by testing them in a new context, namely that of foraging burglary offenders. Bennell and Canter (2002) outlined that a decision-making threshold is important in the absence of any categorical linking criteria such as forensic evidence. This is because it provides a 'cut off point' whereby any reading above that figure can imply a positive decision which in this study would mean that two crimes are linked (Swets, 1992). ...
... Bennell and Jones (2005) and Tonkin and Santtila (2011) have both examined the property selection choice of burglars as linkage indicators and found them to provide moderate value. This study of foraging offenders further cemented this finding providing almost identical findings adding further weight to the argument of Bennell and Canter (2002) who suggest it is an element that offenders have least control over. Bennell and Jones (2005) study looking at entry behavior as a linkage indicator identified it as having a low predictive accuracy (AUC=0.59) ...
Thesis
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Drawn from ecology, the optimal forager predictive policing methodology has been identified as the primary tasking tool used by police services to tackle domestic burglary. Built upon established findings that the target selection behaviour of foraging domestic burglary offenders can be predicted, this thesis examines the physical offending and geographical characteristics of foraging offenders in greater detail. This study evolves established research evidence by drawing upon criminological methods that have potential to increase the approaches effectiveness before testing their applicability in respect of foraging criminals. Ecological research evidence relating to assumptions of foraging behaviour are used to devise theoretical manifestations within criminal behaviour which are subsequently tested for and used to build a theoretical model to combat them. The study achieves all of this through a number of key research chapters, these include (1) identifying predictive thresholds for linking burglary offences committed by foraging criminals (2) drawing on existing assumptions within ecology the study then seeks to identify their presence within foraging criminals, including the presence of significant crime displacement, and (3) geographical profiling is identified and tested as a potential solution to combat the evasive behaviour of foraging offenders as a response to the increased police presence that the optimal forager model is designed to co-ordinate. Underpinning the study throughout is an examination of the enablers and blockers present that impact upon the effectiveness of such transitions of theory into practice. Overall, the thesis provides new theoretical material by creating a framework of foraging offender typologies. The key practical implications for policing include a model for tackling the identified theoretical foraging typologies to increase the crime prevention and reduction efforts in respect of domestic burglary.
... Furthermore, as this approach is based on statistical regularities between specific features of offenders and the types of crimes they commit from large datasets on prior crimes and offenders, it is not subjective or based upon a specific profiler's opinions and experiences to develop the resultant profiles (Holmes & Holmes, 1996). This scientific approach has been growing in popularity in the OP field (see, e.g., Bennell & Canter, 2002;Canter, 1995; and has many advantages in terms of replicability, datadriven findings, and increased accuracy and utility when applied in the field. Canter (1995) was the first to propose a more statistical approach to OP, when he proposed the "A to C equation", where A represents the actions related to a crime known to the police (e.g., crime location, method of entry, state of scene) and C refers to the characteristics of the responsible offender (e.g., criminal history, identifying traits). ...
... Another example of a statistically based approach to OP is crime linkage analysis (CLA). CLA, first developed by Bennell and Canter (2002), uses statistical analysis to link crimes to a single offender on the basis of commonalities seen in various crime scene behaviors. CLA typically uses receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis to evaluate behavioral similarity across offenses and determines the likelihood of case linkage (Bennell, Mugford, Ellingwood, & Woodhams, 2014). ...
Chapter
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... Woodhams (2008) also investigated the utility of inter-crime distance with regard to linking serial sex offenses committed by juveniles, finding that intercrime distance was able to very accurately predict whether crime pairs were committed by the same (linked) versus two different offenders (unlinked). However, these findings need to be interpreted with caution given the relatively small sample sizes spread over large geographic areas (certainly for the Woodhams and Grubin et al. studies;Bennell and Canter 2002;Woodhams 2008). ...
Article
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Previous studies of the geographical and temporal features of serial sex offenses are limited by small samples and/or geographical areas, and are dated. We address a significant gap in the literature by investigating the temporal and geographical proximity of the crimes of 402 serial stranger sex offenders in the UK. Periods of incarceration were extracted from calculations of temporal proximity giving a more accurate picture of series duration and time elapsed between offenses from the same series. A notable minority of serial stranger sex offenders commit their offenses within very close geographic proximity and the same was found for temporal proximity. There were also occurrences of series spanning large distances and many years. The implications of these findings for the use of geography and time in the behavioral linking of crimes, and what they mean for policy decisions regarding financial investment in law enforcement technology, are discussed.
Chapter
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Chapter
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