Exploring Places of Street Drug Dealing in a Downtown Area in Brazil: An Analysis of the Reliability of Google Street View in International Criminological Research


  • Elenice DeSouza Oliveira Montclair State University, Normal Ave, Montclair, New Jersey 07043, USA
  • Ko-Hsin Hsu Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, 15200 Kutztown Road, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA




Google Street View, Gangs, Policing, Brazil, Violence


This study assesses the reliability of Google Street View (GSV) in auditing environmental features that help create hotbeds of drug dealing in Belo Horizonte, one of Brazil’s largest cities. Based on concepts of “crime generators” and “crime enablers,” a set of 40 items were selected using arrest data related to drug activities for the period between 2007 and 2011. These items served to develop a GSV data collection instrument used to observe features of 135 street segments that were identified as drug dealing hot spots in downtown Belo Horizonte. The study employs an intra-class correlation (ICC) statistics as a measure of reliability. The study showed mixed findings regarding agreement on some features among raters. One on hand, the observer’s lack of familiarity with the local culture and street dynamics may pose a challenge with regards to identifying environmental features. On the other hand, factors such as image quality, objects that obstruct the view, and the overlooking of addresses that are not officially registered also decrease the reliability of the instrument. We conclude that a combination of tools and strategies should be applied to make the use of GSV truly reliable in the field of international criminological research.


Anderson E. Code of Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of Inner City. New York: W.W. Norton 1999.

Arreguy C, Raphael RR. Histórias de Bairros [de Belo Horizonte]: Livro do Professor. 1rd ed. Belo Horizonte: Arquivo Público da Cidade de Belo Horizonte 2008.

Beato Filho C, Felipe Z. Criminal Activities Structuration: a Case Study. Revista Brasileira de Ciencias Sociais 2012; 27:1163–1177. Rio de Janeiro: Escola Nacional de Saude Publica Sergio Arouca Oswaldo Cruz.

Block RL, Carolyn RB. Space, Place and Crime: Hot Spot Areas and Hot Places of Liquor-Related Crime in Crime and Place, Crime Prevention Studies 1995; 4:145-83, edited by J. E. Eck and D. Weisburd. Monsey: Willow Tree Press.

Branas CC, Rose AC, John MM, Vicky WT, Tara DJ, Thomas RTH. A Difference-in-Differences of Health, Safety, and Greening Vacant Urban Space. American Journal of Epidemiology 2011; 174:1-11. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwr273 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwr273

Brantingham PJ, Patricia LB. Criminality of Place: Crime Generators and Crime Attractors. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 1995; 3:5-26. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02242925 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02242925

Brantingham PL, Paul JB. Nodes, Paths and Edges: onsiderations on Environmental Criminology. Journal of Environmental Psychology 1993; 13:3-28. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-4944(05)80212-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-4944(05)80212-9

Brownson RC, Chang JJ, Eyler AA, Ainsworth BE, Kirtland KA, Saelens BE, Sallis JF. Measuring the Environment for Friendliness toward Physical Activity: a Comparison of the Reliability of 3 Questionnaires. American Journal of Public Health 2004; 94(3):473-83. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.94.3.473 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.94.3.473

Bursik R. Social Disorganization and Theories of Crime and Delinquency: Problems and Prospects. Criminology 1988; 26: 519–552. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1988.tb00854.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1988.tb00854.x

Caplan JM, Kennedy LW, Petrossian G. Police-monitored CCTV Cameras in Newark, NJ: a Quasi-Experimental Test of Crime Deterrence. Journal of Experimental Criminology 2011; 7(3):255–274. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-011-9125-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-011-9125-9

Caplan JM., Leslie WK, Joel M. Risk Terrain Modelling: Brokering Criminological Theory and GIS Methods for Crime Forecasting. Justice Quarterly 2011; 28:360-81. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2010.486037 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2010.486037

Cinco Projetos-Piloto. PhD Dissertation, Social Sciences Department, Federal University, Bahia, Brazil 2006.

Clarke P, Ailshire J, Melendez R, Bader M, Morenoff J. Using Google Earth to Conduct a Neighborhood Audit: Reliability of a Virtual Audit Instrument. Health & Place 2010; 6(6):1224–1229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.08.007 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.08.007

Clarke, RV, John EE. Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services 2005.

Conner, R. and Patrick B. The Winnable War: A Community Guide to Eradicating Street Drug Markets. Washington, DC: American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities 1991. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/20080314

De Souza, E. Situational factors in homicides in a hot spot Brazilian favela. Ph.D Dissertation, Graduate Program in Criminal Justice. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 2010.

Domanico, A. Craqueiros e Cracados: Bem vindo ao Mundo dos Noias! Estudos sobre a Implementacao de Estrategia de Reducao de Danos para Usuarios de Crack nos

Eck, J. E. and David L. W. Crime Places in Crime Theory in Crime and Place, Crime Prevention Studies 1995; 4:1-33, edited by J.E. Eck and D.L. Weisburd. Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

Eck, J. E. Drug Markets and Drug Places: A Case-Control Study of the Spatial Structure of Illicit Drug Dealing. PhD dissertation, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 1994.

Edmunds, M., Hough, M., & Urquia, N. Tackling Local Drug Markets. In B. Webb (ed.), Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper 80 1996. Londong: Home Office Police Research Group.

Frugoli, H. and Spaggiari, E. Da Cracolândia aos Nóias: Percursos Etnográficos no Bairro da Luz. Revista Ponto Urbe 2010; 4.

Fujita S. Why are older cars stolen? Examining motive, Availability, Location, and Security. PhD Dissertation, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers, The State University of Newark, NJ. 2011.

Gordon DLA and Janzen M. Suburban nation? Estimating the Size of Canada’s Suburban Population. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 2013; 30(3):197.

Grillo, C.C. O Morro e a Pista: Um Estudo Comparado das Dinamicas do Comercio Ilegal de Drogas. Dilemas. Revista de Estudos de Conflito e Controle Social 2008; 1:127–148. Rio de Janeiro: NECVU/IFCS/UFRJ.

Groff, E., David LW, Sue-Ming Y. Is It Important to Examine Crime Trends at a Local “Micro” Level? A Longitudinal Analysis of Street to Street Variability in Crime Trajectories. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 2010; 26:7-32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-009-9081-y DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-009-9081-y

Groff, E., Eric S. M. The Role of Neighborhood Parks as Crime Generators. Security Journal 2012; 25:1-24. https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2011.1 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2011.1

Guo Z. Residential Street Parking and Car Ownership: a Study of Households with Off-street Parking in the New York City Region. Journal of the American Planning Association 2013; 79(1):32–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2013.790100 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2013.790100

Hanson CS, Noland RB, Brown C. The Severity of Pedestrian Crashes: An Analysis Using Google Street View Imagery. Journal of Transportation Geography 2013; 33(0):42–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2013.09.002 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2013.09.002

Harocopos A, Hough M. Drug dealing in open air markets. Problem-oriented guides for police. Problem-Specific Guide Series 31 2005. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice –Office of Community Oriented Police services. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/e414762005-001

He Li, Antonio P, Desheng L. Built environment and violent crime: An environment audit approach using Google Street View. Computers, Environment, and Urban Systems 2017; 66: 83-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2017.08.001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2017.08.001

Hsu K, Miller J. Assessing the Situational Predictors of Drug Markets across Street Segments and Intersections. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 2017; 1-28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427817714574 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427817714574

Hsu K. How Are Street Drug Dealing Locations Selected? A Situational Analysis. PhD dissertation, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ 2014.

Instituto Brasileiro de Geographia e Estatistica—IBGE Census 2010. http://www.ibge.gov.br/censo. Accessed 12 Jan 2017. Google. ([2014h]). Privacy and Security - About - Google Maps. http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/privacy/ Accessed 5 Oct 2017 Google. [(2017)] Map Coverage Details. https://developers.google. com/maps/coverage. Accessed August 2017

Kelly CM, Wilson JS, Baker EA, Miller DK, Schootman M. Using Google Street View to Audit the Built Environment: Inter-rater Reliability Results. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2013; 45(1):108–112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-012-9419-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-012-9419-9

Kennedy D, Bishop MC. Google Earth and the Archaeology of Saudi Arabia. A Case Study from the Jeddah area. Journal of Archaeological Science 2011; 38(6):1284–1293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2011.01.003 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2011.01.003

Kleiman M. Modeling Drug Markets. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, San Francisco 1991.

Koo TK., Li MY. 2016. A Guideline of Selecting and Reporting Intra-class Correlation Coefficients for Reliability Research. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine 15(2):155–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.02.012 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.02.012

Landis JR, Koch GG. The Measurement of Observer Agreement for Categorical Data. Biometrics 1977; 33(1):159–174. https://doi.org/10.2307/2529310 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/2529310

Lipton R, Yang X, Braga AA, Goldstick J, Newton M, Rura M. Geography of Violence, Alcohol, and Drug Arrests in Boston. American Journal of Public Health 2013; 103(4):657–664. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300927 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300927

Loukaitou-Sideris, A. Hot Spots of Bus Stop Crime: The Importance of Environmental Attributes. Journal of the American Planning Association 1999; 65:395-411. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944369908976070 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01944369908976070

Martinez R, Rosenfeld R, Mares D. Social Disorganization, Drug Market Activity, and Neighborhood Violent Crime. Urban Affairs Review 2008; 43(6):846–874. https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087408314774 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087408314774

McCord ES, Jerry HR. A Micro-spatial Analysis of the Demographic and Criminogenic Environment of Drug Markets in Philadelphia. The Australian and New Zeland Journal of Criminology 2007; 40(1):43–63. https://doi.org/10.1375/acri.40.1.43 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1375/acri.40.1.43

Misse, M. As Ligacoes Perigosas: Mercados Ilegais, Narcotrafico e Violencia no Rio. Comtemporaneidade e Educacao 1997; 1: 93–116. Brasilia: FAEEBA

Myhre, ML. Drug Market Precipitators: Situational Dynamics of Open-air Drug Markets in Public Housing. PhD dissertation, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ 2000.

Odgers CL, Caspi A, Bates CJ, Sampson RJ, Moffitt TE. Systematic Social Observation of Children’s Neighborhoods Using Google Street View: A Reliable and Cost-effective Method. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2012; 53(10):1009–1017. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02565.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02565.x

Odgers CL, Christopher JB, Avshalom C, Robert JS, Terrie EM. Sys-tematic Social Observation Inventory: Tally of Observations in Urban Regions (SSO i-Tour) 2009. Irvine, CA: Adaptlab.

Olea PP, Mateo-Tomás P. Assessing Species Habitat Using Google Street View: A Case Study of Cliff-nesting Vultures. PLOS ONE 2013; 8(1):e54582. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054582 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054582

Oliveira E, Braulio FAS, Marco PO. Street Drug Markets beyond Favelas in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Crime Science an Interdisciplinary Journal 2015; 4:36. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-015-0048-z DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-015-0048-z

Oliveira, SSR. O Movimento de Favelas de Belo Horizonte e o Departmento de Habitacao e Bairros populares (1956–1954). Mundos do Trabalho 2012; 4(7):100–120. https://doi.org/10.5007/1984-9222.2012v4n7p100 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5007/1984-9222.2012v4n7p100

Ousey CG, Lee MR. Examining the Conditional Nature of the Illicit Drug Market Homicide Relationship: A Partial Test of the Theory of Contingent Causation. Criminology 2002; 40(1):73–102. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2002.tb00950.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2002.tb00950.x

Pringle H. Google Earth shows Clandestine Worlds. Science 2010; 329(5995):1008–1009. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.329.5995.1008 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.329.5995.1008

Rengert GF, Sanjoy C, Tom B, Kristin H. A geographic analysis of illegal drug markets. In Natarajan M., Hough M. eds., Illegal drug Markets: From research to prevention policy 2000; 219-239. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

Rengert, G, Jerry HR, Sanjoy C. Policing Illegal Drug Markets: Geographic Approaches to Crime reduction. New York: Criminal Justice Press 2005.

Rengert, G. 1996. The Geography of Illegal Drugs. Boulder: Westview Press.

Rousselet J, Imbert C-E, Dekri A, Garcia J, Goussard F, Vincent B, Denux O, Robinet C, Dorkeld F, Roques A, Rossi J-P. Assessing species distribution using google street view: a pilot study with the pine processionary moth. PLOS One 2013; (10):e74918. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074918 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074918

Rui, T. Corpos Abjetos: Etnografia em Cenarios de Uso e Comercio de Crack. Ph.D dissertation. Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil 2012.

Rundle AG, Bader MDM, Richards CA, Neckerman KM, Teitler JO. Using Google Street View to audit neighborhood environments. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2011; 40(1):94–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2010.09.034 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2010.09.034

Salesses Philip, Katja S, César AH. The collaborative image of the city: Mapping the inequality of urban perception.” PlOS One 2013; 8(7), e68400. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068400 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068400

Salgado, NA. "A Pedra Nao Para": um estudo sobre a cracolandia na cidade de Belo Horizonte/MG. Revista UFMG 2013; 20(1):268–393. Belo Horizonte: UFMG.

Sapori LF, Lucia LS, Braulio FAS. Mercado do crack e violencia urbana na cidade de Belo Horizonte. Dilemas: Revista de Estudos de Conflito e Controle Social 2012; (1):37–66.

Silva, BFA, Claudio BF. Ecologia social do medo: avaliando a associação entre contexto de bairro e medo de crime. Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População 2013; 30(Suppl.), S155-S170. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-30982013000400010 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-30982013000400010

Silva, BFA. Social Disorganization and Crime: Searching for the Determinants of Crime at the Community Level. Latin American research 2014; 49(3):218-230. https://doi.org/10.1353/lar.2014.0041 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/lar.2014.0041

Spelman W. Abandoned buildings: magnets for crime? Journal of Criminal Justice 1993; 21:481-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/0047-2352(93)90033-J DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0047-2352(93)90033-J

Sussman S, Stacy AW, Ames SL, Freedman LB. Self-reported high-risk locations of adolescent drug use. Addictive Behaviors 1998; 23:405-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4603(97)00069-5 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4603(97)00069-5

Vandeviver, C. Applying Google Maps and Google Street View in Criminological Research. Crime Science Journal an Interdisciplinary Journal 2014; 3:13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-014-0013-2 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-014-0013-2

Vincent L. Taking Online Maps down to Street Level. IEEE Computer 2007; 40(12):118–120. https://doi.org/10.1109/MC.2007.442 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/MC.2007.442

Weisburd, D, Elizabeth RG, Sue-Ming Y. Criminology of Place Street Segments and Our Understanding of the Crime Problem. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195369083.001.0001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195369083.001.0001

Weisburd, D, Lorraine G. Policing hot spots: the Jersey City drug market analysis experiment. Justice Quarterly 1995; 12:711–735. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418829500096261 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07418829500096261

Weisburd, DL, Elizabeth RG, Sue-Ming Y. Understanding and Controlling Hot Spots of Crime: The Importance of Formal and Informal Social Controls. Prevention Science 2014; 15:31-43. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-012-0351-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-012-0351-9

Weisburd, DL, Shawn B, Cynthia L, Sue-Ming Y. Trajectories of Crime at Places: A longitudinal Study of Street Segments in the City of Seattle. Criminology 2004; 42(2):283-322. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00521.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00521.x




How to Cite

Oliveira, E. D., & Hsu, K.-H. (2018). Exploring Places of Street Drug Dealing in a Downtown Area in Brazil: An Analysis of the Reliability of Google Street View in International Criminological Research. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 7, 32–47. https://doi.org/10.6000/1929-4409.2018.07.04