Visualising Crime Hotspots in England and Wales using {ggmap}

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Two weeks ago, I was looking for ways to make pretty maps for my own research project. A quick search led me to some very informative blog posts by Kim Gilbert, David Smith and Max Marchi. Eventually, I Google’d the excellent crime weather map example by David Kahle and decided to stick with the gg-style approach.

Thanks to David Kahle and Hadley Wickham who ramped up that example and subsequently developed the {ggmap} package, making maps in R can be really intuitive and fun!
I wrote a wrapper function that takes a location within England and Wales, downloads crime data around that location over a certain period of time and creates crime weather plots. This blog post discusses the data used, methodology and the wrapper function with some worked examples. The codes are available here.


The street-level crime data is one of the 9,000 datasets available from The data can be downloaded systematically via the Police API. The latest version of the API no longer requires authentication.

The following URL can be used to obtain crime records at street-level within a one-mile radius of a single point. The parameters required are latitude, longitude and month. The downloaded data is in JSON format which can be converted into R’s data format using the {RJSONIO} package.

Example URL


The methodology can be summarised in the following six steps:

1. Obtain latitude and longitude of a user-defined location using ggmap::geocode.
2. Download crime data via the Police API as discussed above.
3. Convert JSON into a list and then a data frame.
4. Download a base map from Google using ggmap::get_googlemap.
5. Covert the base map into a ggplot object using ggmap::ggmap.
6. Add multiple layers on top of the base map using the data frame like a normal ggplot.

For more details, check out the functions in the codes:

  • “” and “list2df” for steps 1, 2 and 3
  • “” for steps 4, 5 and 6

Wrapper and Worked Examples

The wrapper function looks like this …
crimeplot.wrapper <- function(
  point.of.interest = "London Eye",  ## user-defined location
  period = c("2013-01","2013-02"),  ## period of time in YYYY-MM = "roadmap",  ## roadmap, terrain, satellite or hybrid
  type.facet = NA,  ## options: NA, month, category or type
  type.print = NA,  ## options: NA, panel or window
  output.plot = TRUE,  ## print it to a png file?
  output.filename = "temp.png",  ## provide a filename
  output.size = c(700,700)) ## width and height setting                              

... given the location, time period and a few more graphical settings, the wrapper can produce a crime weather map. The following worked examples illustrate the usage.

Example 1 - All crimes around London Eye from Jan-2013 to Apr-2013

Here we can see a huge crime hotspt in the Soho district of London - an area full of bars, restaurants, theatres and nightclubs (did I mention Chinatown?)

## Define the period
ex1.period <- format(seq(as.Date("2013-01-01"),length=4,by="months"),"%Y-%m")

## Use the wrapper
ex1.plot <- crimeplot.wrapper(point.of.interest = "London Eye",
                              period = ex1.period,
                     = "roadmap",
                              output.filename = "ex1.png",
                              output.size = c(700,700))

Example 2 - Typical crimes and traffic incidents around London Eye from Jan-2013 to Apr-2013

(Note: click on the image to see original image in higher resolution)

Now we seperate the data from British Transport Police (BTP) and all other forces (Force) using the facet function in {ggplot}. We can see a traffic black spot on the other side of River Thames.


## Define the period
ex2.period <- format(seq(as.Date("2013-01-01"),length=4,by="months"),"%Y-%m")
## Use the wrapper
ex2.plot <- crimeplot.wrapper(point.of.interest = "London Eye",
                              period = ex2.period,
                     = "roadmap",
                              type.facet = "type",
                              output.filename = "ex2.png",
                              output.size = c(1400,700))

Example 3 - Monthly crimes in Manchester for the year 2012 on a satellite map

(Note: click on the image to see original image in higher resolution)

Using the facet function on "month", we can look at the changes in patterns over time. Looks like there is not much seasonality in Manchester as the crime hotspots remain hot over the year.


## Define the period
ex3.period <- format(seq(as.Date("2012-01-01"),length=12,by="months"),"%Y-%m")

## Use the wrapper
ex3.plot <- crimeplot.wrapper(point.of.interest = "Manchester",
                              period = ex3.period,
                     = "satellite",
                              type.facet = "month",
                              output.filename = "ex3.png",
                              output.size = c(1400,1400))

Example 4 - Crimes by categories in Liverpool from Jan-2013 to Apr-2013 on a hybrid map

(Note: click on the image to see original image in higher resolution)

Now we separate different categories of crimes. It is interesting to see that only a small part of the city is affected by shoplifting and other theft while burglary, arson and vehicle crimes are very common problems in Liverpool.


## Define the period
ex4.period <- format(seq(as.Date("2013-01-01"),length=4,by="months"),"%Y-%m")
## Use the wrapper
ex4.plot <- crimeplot.wrapper(point.of.interest = "Liverpool",
                              period = ex4.period,
                     = "hybrid",
                              type.facet = "category",
                              output.filename = "ex4.png",
                              output.size = c(1400,1400))

Further Work

Further work is needed to ...
1. optimise the codes for "list2df" transformation (At the moment it is quite slow. I tried lapply but it didn't give me back the desired data frame format but I know there must be a solution.)
2. better automate the graphical settings for output resolution, font size etc.
3. make it interactive using {Shiny}


I would like thank Yanchang Zhao for his excellent book titled "R and Data Mining: Examples and Case Studies" which encouraged me to shift from MATLAB to R. All embedded codes were Created by Pretty R at

Key References

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