Objectives: To identify how much of the variability of crime in a city can be attributed to micro (street segment), meso (neighborhood), and macro (district) levels of geography. We define the extent to which different levels of geography are important in understanding the crime problem within cities and how those relationships change over time.
Methods: Data are police recorded crime events for the period 2001–2009. More than 400,000 crime events are geocoded to about 15,000 street segments, nested within 114 neighborhoods, in turn nested within 44 districts. Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients are used to describe the crime concentration at the three spatial levels. Linear mixed models with random slopes of time are used to estimate the variance attributed to each level.
Results: About 58–69 % of the variability of crime can be attributed to street segments, with most of the remaining variability at the district level. Our findings suggest that micro geographic units are key to understanding the crime problem and that the neighborhood does not add significantly beyond what is learned at the micro and macro levels. While the total number of crime events declines over time, the importance of street segments increases over time.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that micro geographic units are key to understanding the variability of crime within cities—despite the fact that they have received little criminological focus so far. Moreover, our results raise a strong challenge to recent focus on such meso geographic units as census block groups.