Home buying and collective efficacy

With the recent large appreciation in home values, around 20% in the prior year, there have been an increase in private investors purchasing homes to rent out. Recent stories on this by Tyler Dukes and colleagues have collated open parcel data to identify the scope of these companies across all of North Carolina.

For bit of background, I tried to purchase a home in Plano, TX early 2018. Homes in our price range at that time were going in a single day and typically a few thousand over asking price.

Fast forward to early 2021, I am full remote data scientist instead of a professor, and kiddo is in online school. Even with the pay bump, housing competition was even worse in Plano at this point, so we knew we were likely going to have to move school districts to be able to purchase a home. So we decided to strike out, and ended up looking around Raleigh. Ended up quite quickly deciding to purchase a new build home in the suburb of Clayton (totally recommend our realtor, Ellen Pitts, her crew did quite a bit of work for us remotely).

I was lucky to get in then it appears – many of the new developments in the area are being heavily scooped up by these equity firms (and rent would be ~$600 more for my home than the mortgage). So I downloaded the public data Dukes put together, and loaded it into Excel to make a quick map of the properties.

For a NC state view, we have big clusters in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh:

We can zoom in, and here is an overview of triangle area:

So you can see that inside the loop in Raleigh is pretty sparse, but many of the newer developments on the east side have many more of the private firm purchased houses. Charlotte is much more infilled with these private firms purchasing properties.

Zooming in even further to my town of Clayton, there is quite a bit of variance in the proportion of private vs residential purchases across various developments. My development is less than 50% of these purchases, several developments though appear almost 100% private purchased though. (This is not my home/neighborhood FYI.)

So what does this have to do with collective efficacy? Traditionally areas with higher home ownership have been associated with lower rates of crime. For not criminologists reading my blog, one of the most prominent criminological theories is that state actions only move the needle slightly on increasing/decreasing crime, people enforcing social norms is a bigger factor that explains high crime vs low crime areas. Places with people churning out more frequently – which occurs in areas with more renters – tend to have fewer people effectively keeping the peace. Because social scientists love to make up words, we call this concept collective efficacy.

Downloading and looking at this data, while I was mostly just interested in zooming into my neighborhood and seeing the infill of renters, sparked a criminological hypothesis: I expect neighborhoods with higher rates of private equity purchased housing in the long run to have higher rates of criminal behavior.

This hypothesis will be difficult to test in the wild. It is partially confounded with capital – those who buy their homes accumulate more wealth over time (again mortgage is quite a bit cheaper than rent, so even ignoring home value appreciation this is true). But the variance in the number of homes purchased by private equity firms in different areas makes me wonder if there is enough variation to do a reasonable research design to test my hypothesis, especially in the Charlotte area in say two or three years post a development being finished.

Downloading Social Vulnerability Index data

So Gainwell has let me open source one of the projects I have been working on at work – a python package to download SVI data. The SVI is an index created by the CDC to identify areas of high health risk in four domains based on census data (from the American Community Survey).

For my criminologist friends, these are very similar variables we typically use to measure social disorganization (see Wheeler et al., 2018 for one example criminology use case). It is a simple python install, pip install svi-data. And then you can get to work. Here is a simple example downloading zip code data for the entire US.

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import svi_data

# Need to sign up for your own key
key = svi_data.get_key('census_api.txt')

# Download the data from census API
svi_zips = svi_data.get_svi(key,'zip',2019)
svi_zips['zipcode'] = svi_zips['GEO_ID'].str[-5:]

Note I deviate from the CDC definition in a few ways. One is that when I create the themes, instead of using percentile rankings, I z-score the variables instead. It will likely result in very similar correlations, but this is somewhat more generalizable across different samples. (I also change the denominator for single parent heads of households to number of families instead of number of households, I think that is likely just an error on CDC’s part.)

Summed Index vs PCA

So here quick, lets check out my z-score approach versus a factor analytic approach via PCA. Here I just focus on the poverty theme:

pov_vars = ['EP_POV','EP_UNEMP','EP_PCI','EP_NOHSDP','RPL_THEME1']
svi_pov = svi_zips[['zipcode'] + pov_vars ].copy()

from sklearn import decomposition
from sklearn.preprocessing import scale


Note the per capita income has a negative correlation, but you can see the index works as expected – lower correlations for each individual item, but fairly high correlation with the summed index.

Lets see what the index would look like if we used PCA instead:

pca = decomposition.PCA()
sd = scale(svi_pov[pov_vars[:-1]])
pc = pca.fit_transform(sd)
svi_pov['PC1'] = pc[:,0]
svi_pov.corr() #almost perfect correlation

You can see that besides the negative value, we have an almost perfect correlation between the first principal component vs the simpler sum score.

One benefit of PCA though is a bit more of a structured approach to understand the resulting indices. So we can see via the Eigen values that the first PC only explains about 50% of the variance.


And if we look at the loadings, we can see a more complicated pattern of residual loadings for each sucessive factor.

comps = pca.components_.T
cols = ['PC' + str(i+1) for i in range(comps.shape[0])]
load_dat = pd.DataFrame(comps,columns=cols,index=pov_vars[:-1])

So for PC3 for example, it has areas with high no highschool, as well as high per capita income. So higher level components can potentially identify more weird scenarios, which healthcare providers probably don’t care about so much by is a useful thing to know for exploratory data analysis.


Since these are via census geographies, we can of course map them. (Here I grab zipcodes, but the code can download counties or census tracts as well.)

We can download the census geo data directly into geopandas dataframe. Here I download the zip code tabulation areas, grab the outline of Raleigh, and then only plot zips that intersect with Raleigh.

import geopandas as gpd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Getting the spatial zipcode tabulation areas
zip_url = r'https://www2.census.gov/geo/tiger/TIGER2019/ZCTA5/tl_2019_us_zcta510.zip'
zip_geo = gpd.read_file(zip_url)

# Merging in the SVI data
zg = zip_geo.merge(svi_pov,on='zipcode')

# Getting outline for Raleigh
ncp_url = r'https://www2.census.gov/geo/tiger/TIGER2019/PLACE/tl_2019_37_place.zip'
ncp_geo = gpd.read_file(ncp_url)
ral = ncp_geo[ncp_geo['NAME'] == 'Raleigh'].copy()
ral_proj = 'EPSG:2278'
ral_bord = ral.to_crs(ral_proj)

ral_zips = gpd.sjoin(zg,ral,how='left')
ral_zips = ral_zips[~ral_zips['index_right'].isna()].copy()
ral_zipprof = ral_zips.to_crs(ral_proj)

# Making a nice geopandas static map, zoomed into Raleigh

fig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(6,6), dpi=100)

# Raleighs boundary is crazy
#ral_bord.boundary.plot(color='k', linewidth=1, edgecolor='k', ax=ax, label='Raleigh')
ral_zipprof.plot(column='RPL_THEME1', cmap='PRGn',

# via https://stackoverflow.com/a/42214156/604456
ral_zipprof.apply(lambda x: ax.annotate(text=x['zipcode'], xy=x.geometry.centroid.coords[0], ha='center'), axis=1)



I prefer to use smaller geographies when possible, so I think zipcodes are about the largest areas that are reasonable to use this for (although I do have the ability to download this for counties). Zipcodes since they don’t nicely overlap city boundaries can cause particular issues in data analysis as well (Grubesic, 2008).

Other Stuff

I have a notebook in the github repo showing how to grab census tracts, as well as how to modify the exact variables you can download.

It does allow you to specify a year as well (in the notebook I show you can do the 2018 SVI for the 16/17/18/19 data at least). Offhand for these small geographies I would only expect small changes over time (see Miles et al., 2016 for an example looking at SES).

One of the things I think has more value added (and hopefully can get some time to do more on this at Gainwell), is to peg these metrics to actual health outcomes – so instead of making an index for SES, look at micro level demographics for health outcomes, and then post-stratify based on census data to get estimates across the US. But that being said, the SVI often does have reasonable correlations to actual geospatial health outcomes, see Learnihan et al. (2022) for one example that medication adherence the SVI is a better predictor than distance for pharmacy for example.


Buffalo shootings paper published

My article examining spatial shifts in shootings in Buffalo pre/post Covid, in collaboration with several of my Buffalo colleagues, is now published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology (Drake et al., 2022).

If you do not have access to that journal, you can always just email, or check out the open access pre-print. About the only difference is a supplement we added in response to reviewers, including maps of different grid cell areas, here is a hex grid version of the changes:

The idea behind this paper was to see if given the dramatic increase in shootings in Buffalo after Covid started (Kim & Phillips, 2021), they about doubled (similar to NYC), did spatial hot spots change? The answer is basically no (and I did a similar analysis in NYC as well).

While other papers have pointed out that crime increases disproportionately impact minority communities (Schleimer et al., 2022), which is true, it stands to be very specific what the differences in my work and this are saying. Imagine we have two neighborhoods:

Neighborhood A, Disadvantaged/Minority, Pre 100 crimes, Post 200 crimes
Neighborhood B,    Advantaged/Majority, Pre   1 crimes, Post   2 crimes

The work that I have done has pointed to these increases due to Covid being that relative proportions/rates are about the same (shootings ~doubled in both Buffalo/NYC). And that doubling was spread out pretty much everywhere. It is certainly reasonable to interpret this as an increased burden in minority communities, even if proportional trends are the same everywhere.

This proportional change tends to occur when crime declines as well (e.g. Weisburd & Zastrow, 2022; Wheeler et al., 2016). And this just speaks to the stickiness of hot spots of crime. Even with large macro changes in temporal crime trends, crime hot spots are very durable over time. So I really think it makes the most sense for police departments to have long term strategies to deal with hot spots of crime, and they don’t need to change targeted areas very often.


ptools feature engineering vignette update

For another update to my ptools R package in progress, I have added a vignette to go over the spatial feature engineering functions I have organized. These include creating vector spatial features (grid cells, hexagons, or Voronoi polygons), as well as RTM style features on the right hand side (e.g. distance to nearest, kernel density estimates at those polygon centroids, different weighted functions ala egohoods, etc.)

If you do install the package turning vignettes on you can see it:

install_github("apwheele/ptools", build_vignettes = TRUE)

Here is an example of hexgrids over NYC (I have datasets for NYC Shootings, NYC boroughs, NYC Outdoor Cafes, and NYC liquor licenses to illustrate the functions).

The individual functions I think are reasonably documented, but it is somewhat annoying to get an overview of them all. If you go to something like “?Documents/R/win-library/4.1/ptools/html/00Index.html” (or wherever your package installation folder is) you can see all of the functions currently in the package in one place (is there a nice way to pull this up using help()?). But between this vignette and the Readme on the front github page you get a pretty good overview of the current package functionality.

I am still flip flopping whether to bother to submit to CRAN. Installing from github is so easy not sure it is worth the hassle while I continually add in new things to the package. And I foresee tinkering with it for an extended period of time.

Always feel free to contribute, I want to not only add more functions, but should continue to do unit tests and add in more vignettes.

Spatial consistency of shootings and NIJ recid working papers

I have two recent working papers out:

The NIJ forecasting paper is the required submission by NIJ. Gio and I will likely try to turn this into a real paper in the near future. I’d note George Mohler and Michael Porter did the same thing as us, clip the probabilities to under 0.5 to win the fairness competition.

NIJ was interested in “what variables are the most important” – I will need to slate a longer blog post about this in the future, but this generally is not the right way to frame predictive challenges. You do not need real in depth understanding of the underlying system, and many times different effects can be swapped out for one another (e.g. Dawes, 1979).

The paper on shootings in Buffalo is consistent with my blog posts on shootings in NYC (precincts, grid cells). Even though shootings have gone up by quite a bit in Buffalo overall, the spatial distribution is very consistent over time. Appears similar to a recent paper by Jeff Brantingham and company as well.

It is a good use case for the differences in SPPT results when adjusting for multiple comparisons, we get a S index of 0.88 without adjustments, (see below distribution of p-values). These are consistent with random data though, so when doing a false discovery rate correction we have 0 areas below 0.05.

If you look at the maps there are some fuzzy evidence of shifts, but it is quite weak overall. Also one thing I mention here is that even though we have hot spots of shootings, even the hottest grid cells only have 1 shooting a month. Not clear to me if that is sufficient density (if only considering shootings) to really justify a hot spots approach.


  • Brantingham, P. J., Carter, J., MacDonald, J., Melde, C., & Mohler, G. (2021). Is the recent surge in violence in American cities due to contagion?. Journal of Criminal Justice, 76, 101848.
  • Circo, G., & Wheeler, A. (2021). National Institute of Justice Recidivism Forecasting Challenge Team “MCHawks” Performance Analysis. CrimRxiv. https://doi.org/10.21428/cb6ab371.9aa2c75a
  • Dawes, R. M. (1979). The robust beauty of improper linear models in decision making. American Psychologist, 34(7), 571.
  • Drake, G., Wheeler, A., Kim, D.-Y., Phillips, S. W., & Mendolera, K. (2021). The Impact of COVID-19 on the Spatial Distribution of Shooting Violence in Buffalo, NY. CrimRxiv. https://doi.org/10.21428/cb6ab371.e187aede
  • Mohler, G., & Porter, M. D. (2021). A note on the multiplicative fairness score in the NIJ recidivism forecasting challenge. Crime Science, 10(1), 1-5.

Solving the P-Median model

Wendy Jang, my former student at UTD and now Data Scientist for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept. writes in:

Hello Andy,

I have some questions about your posting in GitHub. Honestly, I am not good at Python at all. I was playing with your python code and trying to understand the work flow. Then, I can pretty much mimic what you did; however, I encountered some errors along the way.

I was able to follow through lines but then I am stuck on PMed function. Do you know what possibly caused this error? See the screenshot below. Please advise. Thanks!

Specifically, Wendy is asking about my patrol redistricting example with workload inequality constraints. Wendy’s problem here is specifically she likely does not have CPLEX installed. CPLEX is free for academics, but unfortunately costs a bit of money for anyone else (not sure if they have cheaper licensing for public sector, looks like currently about $200 a month).

This was a good opportunity to update some of my code, so now see the two .py files in the DataCreated folder, in particular 01_pmed_class.py has a nice class function. I have additionally added in functionality to create a map, and more importantly eliminate subtours (my solution can potentially return disconnected areas). I have also added the ability to use different solvers.

For this problem CPLEX just works much better (takes around 10 minutes), but I was able to get the SCIP solver to return the same solution in around 5 hours. GLPK did not return a solution even letting it churn out for over 12 hours. I tested CBC for shorter time periods, but that appears to be a no-go as well.

So just a brief overview, the libraries I will be using (check out the end of the post for setting up the conda environment):

import pickle
import pulp
import networkx
import pandas as pd
from datetime import datetime
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import geopandas as gpd

class pmed():
    Ar - list of areas in model
    Di - distance dictionary organized Di[a1][a2] gives the distance between areas a1 and a2
    Co - contiguity dictionary organized Co[a1] gives all the contiguous neighbors of a1 in a list
    Ca - dictionary of total number of calls, Ca[a1] gives calls in area a1
    Ta - integer number of areas to create
    In - float inequality constraint
    Th - float distance threshold to make a decision variables
    def __init__(self,Ar,Di,Co,Ca,Ta,In,Th):

I do not copy-paste the entire pmed class in the blog post. It is long, but is the rewrite of my model from the paper. Next, to load in the objects I need to fit the model (which were created/pickled in the 00_PrepareData.py file).

# Loading in data
data_loc = r'D:\Dropbox\Dropbox\PublicCode_Git\PatrolRedistrict\PatrolRedistrict\DataCreated\fin_obj.pkl'
areas, dist_dict, cont_dict, call_dict, nid_invmap, MergeData = pickle.load(open(data_loc,"rb"))

# shapefile for reporting areas
carr_report = gpd.read_file(r'D:\Dropbox\Dropbox\PublicCode_Git\PatrolRedistrict\PatrolRedistrict\DataOrig\ReportingAreas.shp')

And now we can create a pmed object, which has all the info necessary, and gives us a print out of the total number of decision variables and constraints.

# Creating pmed object
pmed12 = pmed(Ar=areas,Di=dist_dict,Co=cont_dict,Ca=call_dict,Ta=12,In=0.1,Th=10)

Writing the class this way allows the user to input their own solver, and you can see it prints out the available solvers on your current machine. So to pass in the SCIOPT solver you could do pmed12.solve(solver=pulp.SCIP_CMD()), which again for this problem does find the solution, but takes 5 hours. So here I still stick with CPLEX to just illustrate the new classes functionality:

pmed12.solve(solver=pulp.CPLEX(timeLimit=30*60,msg=True))     # takes around 10 minutes

This prints out a ton of information at the command line that you do not get if you run from within Jupyter notebooks. So for debugging that is much more useful. timeLimit is in seconds, but does not include the presolve phase I believe, so some of these solvers can just get stuck on the presolve forever.

We can look at the results in a nice map if you do have geopandas installed and pass it a geopandas data frame and the key to match it on:

pmed12.map_plot(carr_report, 'PDGrid')

This map shows the new areas and different colors with a thick border, and the source area as a dot with a white outline. So here you can see that we end up having one disconnected area – a subtour in optimization parlance. I have added some methods to deal with this though:

stres = pmed12.collect_subtours()

And you can see that for one of our areas it identified a subtour. I haven’t written this to automatically resolve for subtours due to the potential length of the solving time. So here we can see the subtours have 0 calls in them. You can assign those areas to wherever and it does not change the objective function. So that is what I did in the paper and showed how in the Jupyter notebook at the main page for the github project.

So if you are using a function that takes 5 hours, I would suggest you manually fix these subtours if there is an obvious to the human eye easy solution. But here with the shorter solve time with CPLEX I can rerun the algorithm with a warm start, and it runs even faster (under 5 minutes). The .collect_subtours() method adds subtour constraints into the pulp model, so you just need to redo the solve() method to eliminate that particular subtour (I do not know if this is guaranteed to converge though for all problems).

So here in this data eliminating that one subtour results in a solution with no subtours:

stres = pmed12.collect_subtours()

And we can replot the result, which shows it chooses the areas that you would have assigned by eye anyway:

pmed12.map_plot(carr_report, 'PDGrid')

So again for this problem if you have CPLEX I would recommend it (have not tried Gurobi). But at least for this particular dataset SCIOPT was able to solve the problem in 5 hours. So if you are a crime analyst or someone else without academic access to CPLEX you can install the sciopt solver and give that a go for your actual data.

Note that this is based off of results for 325 subareas. So if you have more subareas it will take a longer (and if you have fewer it may be quite a bit shorter).

Setting up the Conda environment

So once you have python installed, you can typically do something like:

pip install pulp

Or via conda:

conda install pyscipopt

I often have trouble though, especially when working with the python geospatial libraries, to install geopandas, fiona, etc. So here what I do is create a new conda environment:

conda create -n linprog
conda activate linprog
conda install -c conda-forge python=3 pip pandas numpy networkx scikit-learn dbfread geopandas glpk pyscipopt pulp

And then you can run the pmedian code above in this environment. I suppose I should turn this into a python package, and I see a bunch of folks anymore are doing docker images as well with their packages in complicated environments. This is actually not that bad, minus geopandas makes things a bit tricky.

Spatial analysis of NYC Shootings using the SPPT

As a follow up to my prior post on spatial sample size recommendations for the SPPT test, I figured I would show an actual analysis of spatial changes in crime. I’ve previously written about how NYC shootings appear to be going up by a similar amount in each precinct. We can do a similar analysis, but at smaller geographic spatial units, to see if that holds true for everywhere.

The data and R code to follow along can be downloaded here. But I will copy-paste below to walk you through.

So first I load in the libraries I will be using and set my working directory:


my_dir <- 'C:\\Users\\andre\\OneDrive\\Desktop\\NYC_Shootings_SPPT'

Now we just need to do alittle data prep for the NYC data. Concat the old and new files, convert the data fields for some of the info, and do some date manipulation. I choose the pre/post date here March 1st 2020, but also note we had the Floyd protests not to long after (so calling these Covid vs protest increases is pretty much confounded).

# Read in the shooting data

old_shoot <- read.csv('NYPD_Shooting_Incident_Data__Historic_.csv', stringsAsFactors=FALSE)
new_shoot <- read.csv('NYPD_Shooting_Incident_Data__Year_To_Date_.csv', stringsAsFactors=FALSE)

# Just one column off
print( cbind(names(old_shoot), names(new_shoot)) )
names(new_shoot) <- names(old_shoot)
shooting <- rbind(old_shoot,new_shoot)

# I need to conver the coordinates to numeric fields
# and the dates to a date field

coord_fields <- c('X_COORD_CD','Y_COORD_CD')
for (c in coord_fields){
  shooting[,c] <- as.numeric(gsub(",","",shooting[,c])) #replacing commas in 2018 data

# How many per year to check no funny business

# Making a datetime variable in R
shooting$OCCUR_DATE <- as.Date(shooting$OCCUR_DATE, format = "%m/%d/%Y", tz = "America/New_York")

# Making a post date to split after Covid started
begin_date <- as.Date('03/01/2020', format="%m/%d/%Y")
shooting$Pre <- ifelse(shooting$OCCUR_DATE < begin_date,1,0)

#There is no missing data

Next I read in a shapefile of the census tracts for NYC. (Pro-tip for NYC GIS data, I like to use Bytes of the Big Apple where available.) The interior has a few dongles (probably for here should have started with a borough outline file), so I do a tiny buffer to get rid of those interior dongles, and then smooth the polygon slightly. To check and make sure my crime data lines up, I superimpose with a tiny dot map — this is also a great/simple way to see the overall shooting density without the hassle of other types of hot spot maps.

# Read in the census tract data

nyc_ct <- readOGR(dsn="nyct2010.shp", layer="nyct2010") 
nrow(nyc_ct) #2165 tracts

# Dissolve to a citywide file
nyc_ct$const <- 1
nyc_outline <- gUnaryUnion(nyc_ct, id = nyc_ct$const)

# Area in square feet
total_area <- area(nyc_outline)
# 8423930027

# Turning crimes into spatial point data frame
coordinates(shooting) <- coord_fields
crs(shooting) <- crs(nyc_ct)

# This gets rid of a few dongles in the interior
nyc_buff <- gBuffer(nyc_outline,1,byid=FALSE)
nyc_simpler <- gSimplify(nyc_buff, 500, topologyPreserve=FALSE)

# Checking to make sure everything lines up

The next part I created a function to generate a nice grid over an outline area of your choice to do the SPPT analysis. What this does is generates the regular grid, turns it from a raster to a vector polygon format, and then filters out polygons with 0 overlapping crimes (so in the subsequent SPPT test these areas will all be 0% vs 0%, so not much point in checking them for differences over time!).

You can see the logic from the prior blog post, if I want to use the area with power to detect big changes, I want N*0.85. Since I am comparing data over 10 years compared to 1+ years, they are big differences, so I treat N here as 1.5 times the newer dataset, which ends up being around a suggested 3,141 spatial units. Given the area for the overall NYC, this translates to grid cells that are about 1600 by 1600 feet. Once I select out all the 0 grid cells, there only ends up being a total of 1,655 grid cells for the final SPPT analysis.

# Function to create sppt grid over areas with 
# Observed crimes

grid_crimes <- function(outline,crimes,size){
    # First creating a raster given the outline extent
    base_raster <- raster(ext = extent(outline), res=size)
    projection(base_raster) <- crs(outline)
    # Getting the coverage for a grid cell over the city area
    mask_raster <- rasterize(outline, base_raster, getCover=TRUE)
    # Turning into a polygon
    base_poly <- rasterToPolygons(base_raster,dissolve=FALSE)
    xy_df <- as.data.frame(base_raster,long=T,xy=T)
    base_poly$x <- xy_df$x
    base_poly$y <- xy_df$y
    base_poly$poly_id <- 1:nrow(base_poly)
    # May also want to select based on layer value
    # sel_poly <- base_poly[base_poly$layer > 0.05,]
    # means the grid cell has more than 5% in the outline area
    # Selecting only grid cells with an observed crime
    ov_crime <- over(crimes,base_poly)
    any_crime <- unique(ov_crime$poly_id)
    sub_poly <- base_poly[base_poly$poly_id %in% any_crime,]
    # Redo the id
    sub_poly$poly_id <- 1:nrow(sub_poly)

# Calculating suggested sample size
total_counts <- as.data.frame(table(shooting$Pre))

# Lets go with the pre-total times 1.5
total_n <- total_counts$Freq[1]*1.5

# Figure out the total number of grid cells 
# Given the total area
side <- sqrt( total_area/total_n ) 
# 1637, lets just round down to 1600

poly_cells <- grid_crimes(nyc_simpler,shooting,1600)
print(nrow(poly_cells)) #1655


Next part is to split the data into pre/post, and do the SPPT analysis. Here I use all the defaults, the Chi-square test for proportional differences, along with a correction for multiple comparisons. Without the multiple comparison correction, we have a total of 174 grid cells that have a p-value < 0.05 for the differences in proportions for an S index of around 89%. With the multiple comparison correction though, the majority of those p-values are adjusted to be above 0.05, and only 25 remain afterwards (98% S-index). You can see in the screenshot that all of those significant differences are increases in proportions from the pre to post. While a few are 0 shootings to a handful of shootings (suggesting diffusion), the majority are areas that had multiple shootings in the historical data, they are just at a higher intensity now.

# Now lets do the sppt analysis

split_shoot <- split(shooting,shooting$Pre)
pre <- split_shoot$`1`
post <- split_shoot$`0`

sppt_diff <- sppt_diff(pre, post, poly_cells)

# Unadjusted vs adjusted p-values
sum(sppt_diff$p.value < 0.05) #174, around 89% similarity
sum(sppt_diff$p.adjusted  < 0.05) #25, 98% similarity

# Lets select out the increases/decreases
# And just map those

sig <- sppt_diff$p.adjusted < 0.05
sppt_sig <- sppt_diff[sig,]
head(sppt_sig,25) # to check out all increases

The table is not all that helpful though for really digging into patterns, we need to map out the differences. The first here is a map showing the significant grid cells. They are somewhat tiny though, so you have to kind of look close to see where they are. The second map uses proportional circles to the percent difference (so bigger circles show larger increases). I am too lazy to do a legend/scale, but see my prior post on a hexbin map, or the sp website in the comments.

# Making a map

circ_sizes <- sqrt(-sppt_sig$diff_perc)*3


# check out https://edzer.github.io/sp/
# For nicer maps/legends/etc.

So the increases appear pretty spread out. We have a few notable ones that made the news right in the thick of things in Manhattan, but there are examples of grid cells that increased scattered all over the boroughs. I am not going to the trouble here, but if I were a crime analyst working on this, I would export this to a format where I could zoom into the local areas and drill down into the specific incidents. You can do that either in ArcGIS, or more directly in R by creating a leaflet map.

So if folks have any better ideas for testing out crime increases I am all ears. At some point will give the R package sparr a try. (Here you could treat pre as the controls and post as the cases.) I am not a real big fan of over interpreting changes in kernel density estimates though (they can be quite noisy, and heavily influenced by the bandwidth), so I do like the SPPT analysis by default (but it swaps out a different problem with choosing a reasonable grid cell size).

Spatial sample size suggestions for SPPT analysis

I’ve reviewed several papers recently that use Martin Andresen’s Spatial Point Pattern Test (Andresen, 2016). I have been critical of these papers, as I think they are using too small of samples to be reasonable. So here in this blog post I will lay out spatial sample size recommendations. Or more specifically if you have N crimes, advice about how you can conduct the SPPT test in S spatial units of analysis.

Long story short, if you have N crimes, I think you should either use 0.85*N = S spatial units of analysis at the high end, but can only detect very large changes. To be well powered to detect smaller changes between the two distributions, use 0.45*N = S. That is, if you have two crime samples you want to compare, and the smaller sample has 1000 crimes, the largest spatial sample size I would recommend is 850 units, but I think 450 units is better.

For those not familiar with the SPPT technique, it compares the proportion of events falling inside a common area (e.g. police beats, census block groups, etc.) between two patterns. So for example in my work I compared the proportion of violent crime and the proportion of SQF in New York City (Wheeler et al., 2018). I think it makes sense as a gross monitoring metric for PDs this way (say for those doing DDACTS, swap out pedestrian stops with traffic stops), so you can say things like area A had a much lower proportion of crimes than stops, so we should emphasize people do fewer stops in A overall.

If you are a PD, you may already know the spatial units you want to use for monitoring purposes (say for each police sector or precinct). In that case, you want the power analysis to help guide you for how large a sample you need to effectively know how often you can update the estimates (e.g. you may only have enough traffic stops and violent crimes to do the estimates on a quarterly basis, not a monthly one) Many academic papers though are just generally theory testing, so don’t have an a priori spatial unit of analysis chosen. (But they do have two samples, e.g. a historical sample of 2000 shootings and a current sample of 1000 shootings.) See Martin’s site for a list of prior papers using the SPPT to see it in action.

I’ve reviewed several papers that examine these proportion changes using the SPPT at very tiny spatial units of analysis, such as street segments. They also happen to have very tiny numbers of overall crimes, and then break the crimes into subsequent subsets. For example reviewed a paper that had around 100 crimes in each subset of interest, and had around 20,000 street segments. I totally get wanting to examine micro place crime patterns – but the SPPT is not well suited for this I am afraid.

Ultimately if you chunk up the total number of crimes into smaller and smaller areas, you will have less statistical power to uncover differences. With very tiny total crime counts, you will be basically only identifying differences between areas that go from 0 to 1 or 0 to 2 etc. It also becomes much more important to control for multiple comparisons when using a large number of spatial units. In general this technique is not going to work out well for micro units of analysis, it will only really work out for larger spatial units IMO. But here I will give my best advice about how small you can reasonably go for the analysis.

Power analysis logic

There are quite a few different ways people have suggested to determine the spatial sample for areas when conducting quadrat analysis (e.g. when you make your own spatial areas). So one rule of thumb is to use 2*A/N, where A is the area of the study and N is the total number of events (Paez, 2021).

Using the SPPT test itself, Malleson et al. (2019) identify the area at which the spatial pattern exhibits the highest similarity index with itself using a resampling approach. Ramos et al. (2021) look at the smallest spatial unit at which the crime patterns within that unit show spatial randomness.

So those later two take an error metric based approach (the spatial unit of analysis likely to result in the miminal amount of error, with error defined different ways). I take a different approach here – power analysis. We want to compare to spatial point patterns for proportional differences, how can we construct the test to be reasonably powered to identify differences we want to detect?

I do not have a perfect way to do this power analysis, but here is my logic. Crime patterns are often slightly overdispersed, so here I assume if you split up say 1000 crimes into 600 areas, it will have an NB2 distribution with a mean of 1000/600 = 1.67 and an overdispersion parameter of 2. (I assume this parameter to be 2 for various reasons, based on prior analysis of crime patterns, and that 2 tends to be in the general ballpark for the amount of overdispersion.) So now we want to see what it would take to go from a hot spot of crime, say the 98th percentile of this distribution to the median 50th percentile.

So in R code, to translate the NB2 mean/dispersion to N & P notation results in N & P parameters of 1.0416667 and 0.3846154 respectively:

trans_np <- function(mu,disp){
    a <- disp
    x <- mu^2/(1 - mu + a*mu)
    p <- x/(x + mu)
    n <- (mu*p)/(1-p)

# Mean 1000/600 and dispersion of 2
nb_dis <- trans_np(1000/600,2)

Now we want to see what the counts are to go from the 98th to the 50th percentile of this distribution:

crime_counts <- qnbinom(c(0.98,0.5), size=nb_dis[1], prob=nb_dis[2])

And this gives us a result of [1] 8 1 in the crime_counts object. So a hot spot place in this scenario will have around 8 crimes, and the median will be around 1 crime in our hypothetical areas. So we can translate these to percentages, and then feed them into R’s power.prop.test function:

crime_prop <- crime_counts/1000
power.prop.test(n = 1000, p1 = crime_prop[1], p2 = crime_prop[2])

And this gives us a result of:

     Two-sample comparison of proportions power calculation 

              n = 1000
             p1 = 0.008
             p2 = 0.001
      sig.level = 0.05
          power = 0.6477139
    alternative = two.sided

NOTE: n is number in *each* group

Note that this is for one N estimate, and assumes that N will be the same for each proportion. In practice for the SPPT test this is not true, oftentimes we have two crime samples (or crime vs police actions like stops), which have very different total baseline N’s. (It is part of the reason the test is useful, it doesn’t make so much sense in that case to compare densities as it does proportions.) So subsequently when we do these estimates, we should either take the average of the total number of crimes we have in our two point patterns for SPPT (if they are close to the same size), or the minimum number of events if they are very disparate. So if you have in sample A 1000 crimes, and sample B 2000 crimes, I think you should treat the N in this scenario as 1500. If you have 5000 crimes vs 1000000 crimes, you should treat N here as 5000.

So that estimate above is for one set of crimes (1000), and one set of areas (600). But what if we vary the number of areas? At what number of areas do we have the maximum power?

So I provide functions below to generate the power estimate curve, given these assumptions about the underlying crime distribution (which will generally be in the ballpark for many crime patterns, but not perfect), for varying numbers of spatial units. Typically we know the total number of crimes, so we are saying given I have N crimes, how finely can a split them up to check for differences with the SPPT test.

Both the Malleson and Ramos article place their recommendations in terms of area instead of total number of units. But it would not surprise me if our different procedures end up resulting in similar recommendations based on the observed outputs of each of the papers. (The 2A/N quadrat analysis suggestion translates to N*0.5 total number of areas, pretty close to my 0.45*N suggestion for example.)

R Code

Below I have a nicer function to do the analysis I walked through above, but give a nice power curve and dataframe over various potential spatial sample sizes:

# SPPT Power analysis example

# See https://andrewpwheeler.com/2015/01/03/translating-between-the-dispersion-term-in-a-negative-binomial-regression-and-random-variables-in-spss/
trans_np <- function(mu,disp){
    a <- disp
    x <- mu^2/(1 - mu + a*mu)
    p <- x/(x + mu)
    n <- (mu*p)/(1-p)

diff_suggest <- function(total_crimes,areas=round(seq(2,total_crimes*10,length.out=500)),
                         change_quant=c(0.98,0.5), nb_disp=2, alpha = 0.05,
         # Figure out mean
         areas <- unique(areas)
         mean_cr <- total_crimes/areas
         # Initialize some vectors to place the results
         n_areas <- length(areas)
         power <- vector("numeric",length=n_areas)
         hign <- power
         lown <- power
         higp <- power
         lowp <- power
         # loop over areas and calculate power
         for (i in 1:length(areas)){
             # Negative binomial parameters
             dp <- trans_np(mean_cr[i],nb_disp)
             hilo <- qnbinom(change_quant, size=dp[1], prob=dp[2])
             hilo_prop <- hilo/total_crimes
             # Power for test
             pow <- power.prop.test(n = total_crimes, p1 = hilo_prop[1], p2 = hilo_prop[2], 
                                    sig.level = alpha)
             # Stuffing results in vector
             power[i] <- pow$power
             hign[i] <- hilo[1]
             lown[i] <- hilo[2]
             higp[i] <- hilo_prop[1]
             lowp[i] <- hilo_prop[2]
         Ncrimes <- rep(total_crimes,n_areas)
         res_df <- data.frame(Ncrimes,areas,mean_cr,power,hign,lown,higp,lowp)
         # replacing missing with 0
         res_df[is.na(res_df)] <- 0
         if (plot) {
            fmt_cr <- formatC(total_crimes, format="f", big.mark=",", digits=0)
            title_str <- paste0("Power per area for Total number of crimes: ",fmt_cr)
            cap_str <- paste0("NB Dispersion = ",nb_disp,", alpha = ",alpha,
                              ", change quantiles = ",change_quant[1]," to ",change_quant[2])
            p <- ggplot(data=res_df,aes(x=areas,y=power)) + geom_line(size=1.5) +
                 theme_bw() + theme(panel.grid.major = element_line(linetype="dashed")) +
                 labs(x='Number of Areas',y=NULL,title=title_str,caption=cap_str) +
                 scale_x_continuous(minor_breaks=NULL) + scale_y_continuous(minor_breaks=NULL) +
                 theme(text = element_text(size=16), axis.title.y=element_text(margin=margin(0,10,0,0)))

Once that function is defined, you can make a simple call like below, and it gives you a nice graph of the power given different numbers of grid cells:


So you can see here we never have very high power over this set of parameters. It is also non-monotonic and volatile at very small numbers of spatial units of analysis (at which the overdispersion assumption likely does not hold, and probably is not of much interest). But once that volatility tamps down we have stepped curve, that ends up happening to step whenever the original NB distribution changes from particular integer values.

So what happens with the power curve if we up the number of crimes to 3000?


So those two patterns are quite similar. It happens that when breaking down to the smaller units, the highest power scenario is when the crimes are subdivided into around 0.85 fewer spatial units than total crimes. So if you have 1000 crimes, in this scenario I would suggest to use 850 areas.

Also note the behavior when you break it down into a very large number of spatial units S, where S >> N, you get a progressive decline until around 0 power in this analysis. E.g. if you have 100 times more spatial units than observations, only a handful of locations have any crimes, and the rest are all 0’s. So you need to be able to tell the difference between 1/N and 0, which is tough (and any inferences you do make will just pretty much be indistinguishable from noise).

What about if we change the quantiles we are examining, and instead of looking at the very high crime place to the median, look at the 80th percentile to the 20th percentile:

diff_suggest(3000, change_quant=c(0.8,0.2))

We have a similar step pattern, but here the power is never as high as before, and only maxes out slightly above 0.5. It happens that this 0.5 power is around number of crimes*0.45. So this suggests that to uncover more middling transitions, one would need to have less than half the number of spatial units of crime observed. E.g. if you have 1000 crimes, I would not suggest any more than 450 spatial units of analysis.

So the first scenario, crimes*0.85 you could say something like this is the highest power scenario to detect changes from very high crime locations (aka hot spots), to the middle of the distribution. For the second scenario (my preferred offhand), is to say crimes*0.45 total spatial units results in the highest power scenario to detect more mild changes in the middle of the distribution (and detecting changes from hot spots to cold spots thus have even more power).

For now that is the best advice I can give for determining the spatial sample size for the SPPT test. Will have a follow up blog post on using R to make a grid to conduct the test.

Also I have been wondering about the best way to quantify changes in the overall ranking. I have not come upon a great solution I am happy with though, so will need to think about it some more.


CCTV and clearance rates paper published

My paper with Yeondae Jung, The effect of public surveillance cameras on crime clearance rates, has recently been published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology. Here is a link to the journal version to download the PDF if you have access, and here is a link to an open read access version.

The paper examines the increase in case clearances (almost always arrests in this sample) for incidents that occurred nearby 329 public CCTV cameras installed and monitored by the Dallas PD from 2014-2017. Quite a bit of the criminological research on CCTV cameras has examined crime reductions after CCTV installations, which the outcome of that is a consistent small decrease in crimes. Cameras are often argued to help solve cases though, e.g. catch the guy in the act. So we examined that in the Dallas data.

We did find evidence that CCTV increases case clearances on average, here is the graph showing the estimated clearances before the cameras were installed (based on the distance between the crime location and the camera), and the line after. You can see the bump up for the post period, around 2% in this graph and tapering off to an estimate of no differences before 1000 feet.

When we break this down by different crimes though, we find that the increase in clearances is mostly limited to theft cases. Also we estimate counterfactual how many extra clearances the cameras were likely to cause. So based on our model, we can say something like, a case would have an estimated probability of clearance without a camera of 10%, but with a camera of 12%. We can then do that counterfactual for many of the events around cameras, e.g.:

Probability No Camera   Probability Camera   Difference
    0.10                      0.12             + 0.02
    0.05                      0.06             + 0.01
    0.04                      0.10             + 0.06

And in this example for the three events, we calculate the cameras increased the total expected number of clearances to be 0.02 + 0.01 + 0.06 = 0.09. This marginal benefit changes for crimes mostly depends on the distance to the camera, but can also change based on when the crime was reported and some other covariates.

We do this exercise for all thefts nearby cameras post installation (over 15,000 in the Dallas data), and then get this estimate of the cumulative number of extra theft clearances we attribute to CCTV:

So even with 329 cameras and over a year post data, we only estimate cameras resulted in fewer than 300 additional theft clearances. So there is unlikely any reasonable cost-benefit analysis that would suggest cameras are worthwhile for their benefit in clearing additional cases in Dallas.

For those without access to journals, we have the pre-print posted here. The analysis was not edited any from pre-print to published, just some front end and discussion sections were lightly edited over the drafts. Not sure why, but this pre-print is likely my most downloaded paper (over 4k downloads at this point) – even in the good journals when I publish a paper I typically do not get 1000 downloads.

To go on, complaint number 5631 about peer review – this took quite a while to publish because it was rejected on R&R from Justice Quarterly, and with me and Yeondae both having outside of academia jobs it took us a while to do revisions and resubmit. I am not sure the overall prevalence of rejects on R&R’s, I have quite a few of them though in my career (4 that I can remember). The dreaded send to new reviewers is pretty much guaranteed to result in a reject (pretty much asking to roll a Yahtzee to get it past so many people).

We then submitted to a lower journal, The American Journal of Criminal Justice, where we had reviewers who are not familiar with what counterfactuals are. (An irony of trying to go to a lower journal for an easier time, they tend to have much worse reviewers, so can sometimes be not easier at all.) I picked it up again a few months ago, and re-reading it thought it was too good to drop, and resubmitted to the Journal of Experimental Criminology, where the reviews were reasonable and quick, and Wesley Jennings made fast decisions as well.

Open source code projects in criminology

TLDR; please let me know about open source code related criminology projects.

As part of my work with CrimRxiv, we have started the idea of creating a page to link to various open source criminology focused projects. That is overly broad, but high level here we are thinking for pragmatic resources (e.g. code repositories/packages, open source text books), as opposed to more traditional literature.

As part of our overlay journal we are starting, D1G1TAL & C0MPUTAT10NAL CR1M1N0L0GY, we are trying to get folks to submit open source work for a paper. (As a note, this will not have any charges to publish.) The motivation is two-fold: 1) this gives a venue to get your code peer reviewed (e.g. similar to the Journal of Open Source Software). This is mainly for the writer, to give academic recognition for your open source work. 2) Is for the consumer of the information, it is a nice place to keep up on current developments. If you write an R package to do some cool analysis I want to be aware of it!

For 2, we can accomplish something similar by just linking to current projects. I have started a spreadsheet of links I am collating for now, (in the future will update to this page, you need to be signed into CrimRxiv to see that list). For examples of the work I have collated so far:

Then we have various R packages from folks floating around; Greg Ridgeway, Jerry Ratcliffe, Wouter Steenbeek (as well as the others I mentioned previously you can check out their other projects on Github). Please add in info into the google spreadsheet, comment here, or send me an email if you would like some work you have done (or know others have done) that should be added.

Again I want to know about your work!