Mapping Activity Patterns to Quantify Risk of Violent Assault in Urban Environments

Wiebe, D. J., Richmond, T. S., Guo, W., Allison, P. D., Hollander, J. E., Nance, M. L., & Branas, C. C. (2016). Mapping activity patterns to quantify risk of violent assault in urban environments. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.)27(1), 32.


Background: We collected detailed activity paths of urban youth to investigate the dynamic interplay between their lived experiences, time spent in different environments, and risk of violent assault.

Methods: We mapped activity paths of 10- to 24-year-olds, including 143 assault patients shot with a firearm, 206 assault patients injured with other types of weapons, and 283 community controls, creating a step-by-step mapped record of how, when, where, and with whom they spent time over a full day from waking up until going to bed or being assaulted. Case-control analyses compared cases with time-matched controls to identify risk factors for assault. Case-crossover analyses compared cases at the time of assault with themselves earlier in the day to investigate whether exposure increases acted to the trigger assault.

Results: Gunshot assault risks included being alone (odds ratio [OR] = 1.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.3, 1.9) and were lower in areas with high neighbor connectedness (OR = 0.7, 95% CI = 0.6, 0.8). Acquiring a gun (OR = 1.4, 95% CI = 1.1, 1.6) and entering areas with more vacancy, violence, and vandalism (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.1, 2.7) appeared to trigger the risk of getting shot shortly thereafter. Nongunshot assault risks included being in areas with recreation centers (OR = 1.2, 95% CI = 1.1, 1.4). Entering an area with higher truancy (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.1, 2.5) and more vacancy, violence, and vandalism appeared to trigger the risk of nongunshot assault. Risks varied by age group.

Conclusions: We achieved a large-scale study of the activities of many boys, adolescents, and young men that systematically documented their experiences and empirically quantified risks for violence. Working at a temporal and spatial scale that is relevant to the dynamics of this phenomenon gave novel insights into triggers for violent assault.