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Using Social Media to Measure Temporal Ambient Population: Does it Help Explain Local Crime Rates?


A challenge for studies assessing routine activities theory is accounting for the spatial and temporal confluence of offenders and targets given that people move about during the daytime and nighttime. We propose exploiting social media (Twitter) data to construct estimates of the population at various locations at different times of day, and assess whether these estimates help predict the amount of crime during two-hour time periods over the course of the day. We address these questions using crime data for 97,428 blocks in the Southern California region, along with geocoded information on tweets in the region over an eight month period. The results show that this measure of the temporal ambient population helps explain the level of crime in blocks during particular time periods. The use of social media data appear promising for testing various implications of routine activities and crime pattern theories, given their explicit spatial and temporal nature.

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