The mobilization of computerized crime mapping: a randomized controlled trial



To develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a decentralized, smartphone-based crime mapping and analysis tool designed for law enforcement officers working in a patrol capacity.


A mixed-methods, block randomized controlled trial was conducted. Baseline and exit surveys were conducted to evaluate device usage, application usage, knowledge of crime clusters, and data sources that individuals perceived to be most useful in identifying crime clusters. Focus groups were used to explore contextual factors associated with app usage.


The results of this research suggest that patrol officers did not value the functionality offered by mobile crime mapping capabilities. Despite broad popularity of agency-provided smartphones, users saw little value in the custom app developed for those devices. Users reported that they were already aware of where crime was occurring and that the mobile platform did not provide useful additional details. Focus group members described some backfire effects of the evaluation methodology.


The results of this randomized experiment demonstrate that smartphone-based crime mapping technology was poorly adopted because it was not perceived as useful. These results suggest that decentralizing crime mapping to this degree may have limited utility for end users. However, advances in smartphone technology since this research was conducted may provide future opportunities for development.

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  1. 1.

    The only statistically significant difference between groups was the use of land use/parcel data at baseline (p < .005, FET).

  2. 2.

    In particular, a public-facing version of NearMe (with the same name) was developed concurrently with RPD’s app and was released in the public Apple App Store around the same time. The public version of the app accessed only nonspecific crime information, whereas the RPD version was based on nonpublic data drawn from internal RPD systems, but users may have been confused by the identical name and similar layout.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Travis A. Taniguchi.

Additional information

This project was supported by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, award no. 2010-DE-BX-K006. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice or the organizations involved in this project.

Appendix. Focus groups

Appendix. Focus groups

We also conducted focus groups to gather qualitative data on officers’ attitudes toward the app. Focus groups were not originally planned for this phase of the study, but engagement with the app was lower than expected, as described in the text, so we sought additional context on the reasons for this. Shortly after the exit survey closed, we conducted two focus groups with two groups of officers selected according to their survey responses and phone usage records: one group who did not download the app, or tried it but did not adopt it for daily work, and another group who used the app regularly and appeared engaged. Each focus group had three officers. The discussion prompts for the focus groups followed the key themes of the surveys but allowed for more in-depth discussion about how the officers used their iPhones in general, how they used the app or why they did not want to use the app, what other apps they used, and what suggestions they had for improvements or changes. We also asked the focus group participants about their experiences of taking part in the experiment to inform future research design in this area. All survey instruments and focus group prompts are included as appendices to the original study technical report (Taniguchi and Gill 2013).

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Taniguchi, T.A., Gill, C. The mobilization of computerized crime mapping: a randomized controlled trial. J Exp Criminol 15, 213–225 (2019).

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  • Crime analysis
  • Crime mapping
  • Policing