| News

London Underground Crime : Avoiding Pickpockets

Offenders who operate below ground may also operate above ground on major transit systems

A picture of zombies on the tube by Dan Booth

A lot of words to say something quite simple: ‘offenders who operate below ground may also operate above ground on major transit systems

Or, more succinctly: thieves can use escalators.


A University of Huddersfield criminologist who has been working closely with authorities in London to cut crime on one of the world’s busiest transport systems will appear before a House of Commons select committee to describe his findings. Dr Andrew Newton is also forming links with overseas experts so that their research can make public transport systems around the world safer places to travel.

By analysing crime patterns on the London Underground, which carries more than one billion passengers a year, Dr Newton is able to draw conclusions about the environment of stations and how they can help or hinder crime, such as pickpocketing. There are also important lessons to be learned about the policing of the Tube system and the areas that surround stations.

Offences are concentrated at particular stations

Just published is Dr Newton’s co-authored article ‘Above and below: measuring crime risk in and round underground mass transit systems’, in the journal Crime Science. It reports on unique research into theft below ground, during Tube journeys. Key findings include the fact that below ground offences are concentrated at particular stations, with the risk being highest during morning and late afternoon peak travel periods, when there is also a greater risk of theft above ground in the nearby environs of the stations. “The findings suggest that offenders who operate below ground may also operate above ground on major transit systems,” writes Dr Newton. “This has clear policy implications for policing these settings and highlights the importance of joint operations and information-sharing between transit agencies and local police forces.”

Algorithm to calculate the probability of where theft is most likely

“By its nature you don’t know when and where you are pickpocketed,” said Dr Newton. “You get on at the start of the journey and you might change to a different line. It might not be until the end of the journey that you realise you have been a victim.” This factor creates difficulties for research into the hot spots for theft below ground on the Tube system. Therefore, Dr Newton worked with Transport for London in developing and adapting research methodologies that have helped to identify the locations on the network where there is the greatest likelihood of crime. The research develops upon and uses data from an analytical tool built by the BTP in collaboration with TfL. The tool uses an algorithm to calculate the probability of where theft is most likely to be occurring and help the BTP to target resources more effectively.

A picture of zombies on the tube by Dan BoothStreets, Transport and Crime

Dr Newton will continue his research and to disseminate his findings. He has just spoken at a major seminar organised by University College London in collaboration with TfL, entitled Streets, Transport and Crime. Towards the end of 2013, he delivered an address at a conference in Stockholm on the subject of public transport safety and he discussed his London Underground research at the American Society of Criminology in Atlanta and at an international seminar at California State University San Bernardino, where he is now collaborating with its Center for Criminal Justice, aiming to contribute to a project on safety on the California transit line.

“I would like to develop an international network and I am talking to colleagues in Sweden, North America, and Australia looking at best practice and deciding if the tool we have developed with Transport for London can be rolled out to other areas,” said Dr Newton.

Source: University of Huddersfield
Illustration by Dan Booth not to be reproduced without his express prior permission

Comments are closed.

Our weekly newsletter

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.