Searching for safety: crime prevention in the era of Google

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The purpose of this study is to assess whether and how people use Google to prevent crime. Individuals may use Google searches to learn about an array of topics, including crime and its prevention. For instance, Google searches may be used to research products online, such as deadbolts, security doors, or alarm systems. Such crime prevention efforts can decrease offender motivation, decrease target suitability, and increase capable guardianship (Cohen and Felson 1979; Wilcox and Cullen 2018). Google may also be used to seek information about law enforcement and community efforts related to crime prevention such as how to file a police report or organize a neighborhood watch.

This research investigated the association between Internet searches and property crime levels in the United States. States with the highest levels of property crime tended to have the highest levels of Google crime prevention queries for target hardening, surveillance, and formal and informal social control. In addition, levels of crime reduction were often greatest in states with more crime prevention queries and the magnitude of the reduction was often substantial. Findings from this research support the conceptualization of aggregated online crime prevention queries as a potential factor for understanding crime reduction strategies and overall changes in crime rate patterns at the state-level.

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