An Evaluation of NIJ’s Evaluation Methodology for Geographic Profiling Software
D. Kim Rossmo
Research Professor and Director
Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation
Department of Criminal Justice
Texas State University
March 9, 2005
This is a response to the National Institute of Justice‟s A Methodology for Evaluating Geographic Profiling Software: Final Report (Rich & Shively, 2004). The report contains certain errors, the most critical of which involves suggested performance measurements. Output
accuracy is the single most important criterion for evaluating geographic profiling software. The
report discusses various performance measures; unfortunately only one of these (hit score
percentage/search cost) accurately captures how police investigations actually use geographic
profiling. This response addresses the various problems associated with the other measures.
Geographic profiling evaluation methodologies must respect the limitations and assumptions
underlying geographic profiling, and accurately measure the actual function of a geographic
profile. Geographic profiling assumes: (1) the case involves a series of at least five crimes; (2)
the offender has a single stable anchor point; (3) the offender is using an appropriate hunting
method; and (4) the target backcloth is reasonably uniform. Additionally, for various theoretical
and methodological reasons, not all crime locations in a given series can be used in the analysis.
The most appropriate measure of geographic profiling performance is “hit score
percentage/search cost.” It is the ratio of the area searched (following the geographic profiling
prioritization) before the offender‟s base is found, to the total hunting area; the smaller this ratio, the better the geoprofile‟s focus. There are no intrinsic disadvantages to this measure.
The other evaluation measures discussed in the NIJ report are all linked to the problematic
“error distance.” “Top profile area” is the ratio of the total area of the top profile region (which
is not defined) to the total search area. It is not a measure by itself. “Profile error distance” is
the distance from the offender‟s base to the nearest point in the top profile region (undefined).
“Profile accuracy” indicates whether the offender‟s base is within the “top profile area”
(undefined); it fundamental misrepresents the prioritization nature of geographic profiling.
“Error distance” is the distance from the offender‟s actual to predicted base of operations.
While it is easily applied to centrographic measures, the complex probability surfaces produced
by geographic profiling software must be reduced to a single (usually the highest) point. Several
researchers have unfortunately adopted this technique because of its simplicity. There are three
major problems with error distance. First, it is linear, while the actual error is nonlinear. Area,
rather than distance, is the relevant and required measure. Population (and therefore suspects)
increases with area size, which is a function of the square of the radius (error distance). The
second problem with error distance is that it is not a standardized measure because of its
sensitivity to scale. The third and most serious analytic problem with error distance is that it fails
to capture how geographic profiling software actually works. Criminal hunting algorithms
produce probability surfaces that outline an optimal search strategy. As an offender‟s search is
rarely uniformly concentric, simplifying a geoprofile to a single point from which to base an
error distance is invalid. The use of error distance ignores most of the output from geographic
profiling software and undermines the very mechanics of how the process functions.
A more comprehensive approach to evaluating geographic profiling as an investigative
methodology needs to consider applicability and utility, as well as performance. Applicability
refers to how often geographic profiling is an appropriate investigative methodology. Utility
refers to how useful or helpful geographic profiling is in a police investigation.
To evaluate geographic profiling properly requires analysing only those cases and crimes
appropriate for the technique, and measuring performance by mathematically sound methods.
Hit score percentage/search cost is the only measure that meets NIJ‟s standard of a “fair and rigorous methodology for evaluating geographic profiling software.”
In January 2005, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released A Methodology for
Evaluating Geographic Profiling Software: Final Report (Rich & Shively, 2004). While the intent of this document is laudable, it is necessary to respond to certain significant errors that are
contained in the report. Some of these may be the result of the advisory expert panel not
including professional geographic profilers (defined as police personnel whose full-time function
involves geographic profiling), “customers” of geographic profiling (police investigators), or
developers of geographic profiling software. A crime analyst (trained in geographic profiling
analysis for property crime) was the sole law enforcement practitioner on the advisory panel.
The most critical error in the NIJ report involves suggested performance measurements.
The expert panel correctly concluded that output accuracy – “the extent to which each software application accurately predicts the offender‟s „base of operations‟” (p. 14) – is the single most
important criterion for evaluating geographic profiling software (p. 15). The report discusses
various performance measures, providing short definitions, advantages, and disadvantages (p.
16). Only one of these measures (hit score percentage/search cost), however, accurately captures
how police investigations actually use geographic profiling. This response addresses the various
problems associated with the other measures.
Geographic profiling is a criminal investigative methodology that analyzes the locations of a
connected crime series to determine the most probable area of offender residence. It is primarily
used as a suspect prioritization and information management tool (Rossmo, 1992a, 2000).
Geographic profiling was developed at Simon Fraser University‟s School of Criminology, and
first implemented in a law enforcement agency, the Vancouver Police Department, in 1995.
Geographic profiling embraces a theory-based framework rooted in environmental
criminology. Crime pattern (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1981, 1984, 1993), routine activity
(Cohen & Felson, 1979; Felson, 2002), and rational choice (Clarke & Felson, 1993; Cornish &
Clarke, 1986) theories provide the major foundations. While there are several techniques used
by geographic profilers, the main tool is the Rigel software program, built in 1996 around the
Criminal Geographic Targeting (CGT) algorithm developed at SFU in 1991.
After discussions in the mid-1990s with senior police executives and managers of the
Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), it was
concluded that several components would be necessary for the successful implementation of
geographic profiling within the policing profession. These included:
? creating personnel selection, training. and testing standards;
? following mentoring and monitoring practices;
? developing usable and functional software;
? establishing case policies and procedures;
? identifying supporting investigative strategies;
1 Examples of the use of spatial statistics for investigative support can be identified in the
literature as far back as 1977. During the Hillside Stranglers investigation, the Los Angeles Police
2 Department analyzed where the victims were abducted, their bodies dumped, and the distances between
these locations, correctly identifying the area of offender residence (Gates & Shah, 1992). None of these
isolated applications, however, led to sustained police use or organizational program implementation.
? building awareness and knowledge in the customer (police investigator) community; and
? committing to evaluation, research, and improvement.
Over the course of the next few years these components were developed, first for major
crime investigation, and then for property crime investigation. Personnel from various
international police agencies were trained in geographic profiling. Their agencies signed
memoranda of understanding agreeing to follow the established protocols, and to assist other
police agencies needing investigative support. Training standards for geographic profilers were
eventually adopted by the International Criminal Investigative Analysis Fellowship (ICIAF), an
independent professional organization first started by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
in the 1980s.
For a geoprofile to be more than just a map, it must be integrated with specific strategies
investigators can use. Examples of strategies identified for geographic profiling include: (1)
suspect and tip prioritization; (2) database searches (e.g., police information systems, sex
offender registries, motor vehicle registrations, etc.); (3) patrol saturation and surveillance; (4)
neighborhood canvasses; (5) information mail outs; and (6) DNA dragnets. The level of
resources required by these strategies is directly related to the size of the geographic area in
which they are conducted.
While not used by professional geographic profilers, there are two derivative geographic
profiling tools also mentioned in the NIJ report: NIJ‟s own CrimeStat JTC (journey-to-crime)
module; and The University of Liverpool‟s Dragnet. Both of these systems were developed in
1998. Neither is a commercial product, and training in their use, beyond software instruction
manuals, is currently unavailable. Little is known about a fourth geographic profiling software
program, Predator, first mentioned in 1998 on Maurice Godwin‟s investigative psychology
Geographic Profiling Evaluation
There are three methods for testing the efficacy of geographic profiling software. The first
uses Monte Carlo simulation techniques. These test the expected performance of the software on
various point patterns representative of serial crime sites. The major advantage of this approach
is the ability to generate large numbers of data cases (e.g., 10,000). The major disadvantage is
the likelihood the site generation algorithm‟s underlying assumptions do not accurately reflect
the geographic patterns of all serial crime cases. In addition, the additional information
associated with an actual case that can help refine a geoprofile is not present.
The second and most common method of evaluating geographic profiling software
performance involves examining solved cases. This technique has been used by Rossmo (1995a,
2000), Canter, Coffey, Huntley, and Missen (2000), Levine (2002), Snook, Taylor, and Bennell
(2004), and Paulsen (2004). The major advantage of research using historical (cold) cases is that
with sufficient effort a reasonably sized sample of cases can be collected. Disadvantages include
sampling bias problems and the need for extensive data review.
The third method tracks geographic profiling performance in unsolved criminal
investigations. This approach is the best of the three as it measures actual – not simulated –
performance under field conditions (Rossmo, 2001). It also serves as a blind test as the “answer”
is not known at the time of the analysis. Monitoring actual case performance is slow, however,
as it is necessary for a case to be solved before it can be included in the data sample.
Every trained geographic profiler is required to keep a case file that records the details of
their work. The log includes fields for case number, sequential number, date, crime type, city,
region, law enforcement agency, investigator, number of crimes, number of locations, type of
analysis, report file name, case status, and result (when solved). This file has both administrative
and research purposes. It was encouraging to see the NIJ report recommend the use of logs and
journals by individuals involved in geographic profiling. However, considering how much there
is to learn with any new police technology (especially in regards to investigator utility versus
software performance), it seems more prudent for all users, and not just a sample, to keep
Geographic Profiling Evaluation Methodology Evaluation Premises
NIJ‟s purpose was “to develop a fair and rigorous methodology for evaluating geographic
profiling software” (p. 4), and their report identifies law enforcement officials as the key
audience for the evaluation. With this in mind, the following premises are used as the basis fo