Leisure, Crime and Cops: Exploring A Paradox of Our Civility

Article excerpt

KEYWORDS: Crime, enforcement, leisure, parks, police, recreation

What makes the year 2000 special is the moment it creates to "take stock" of our civilization as it is now and how it might become. While it is tempting to conclude that we are more civilized than ever before and that the development of leisure, recreation and sport in our societies are clear signs of that progress, further consideration is warranted. As 2000 approaches it is difficult to escape the stark contrasts created by our most contemporary acts of horror. While the string of school killings dominate our view of this subject, other arenas commonly viewed as safe havens are becoming contemporary killing fields. In Texas eight are killed in a church. In California three are killed in a hospital. In Yosemite three are killed in a National Park.

Leisure settings, while obscured by these prominent events, are not immune from this contemporary trend. As in Yosemite, two women were recently murdered in Shenandoah National Park. Urban parks in Oregon have been the recent locations of serial homicides of women. Acts of violence against rangers and employees who manage public recreational land is showing a marked increase punctuated by the 1999 murders of two park rangers in Oregon. The backdrop to these disturbing events is an increase in crime in these leisure settings (Pendleton, 1996; Shore, 1994).

Predictably the response has been to place a higher emphasis on enforcement capability. A shift to a hard enforcement philosophy is evident across these recreational settings as indicated by specialty law enforcement careers in the National Park service and the move to arm state park rangers as evidenced most recently in Washington state, reversing an 85 year tradition of unarmed rangers.

As the Millennium approaches it seems possible that crime and enforcement may becoming a defining part of an evolving leisure experience that has not been fully recognized and explored. Literature reviews of the crime-leisure nexus reveal a mere handful of studies that fail to examine leisure as anything other than a programmatic feature of crime prevention or as a metaphor for unoccupied time and thus an antecedent of criminal behavior. The data on policing and leisure is even more scant. Recent contemporary events along with emerging data, suggest the need to blend leisure, crime and enforcement into a research and policy development agenda (Pendleton, 1998). It seems relevant, on the occasion of the Millennium, to consider the challenges and opportunities that such an odd analytical marriage might present.

Barriers to Understanding Leisure, Crime and Enforcement

Intellectual Ambivalence: The first challenge to pursuing the study of leisure, crime and enforcement is the intellectual ambivalence that precludes such a study. When taken together the contrasts between leisure, crime and the use of force to secure safety underscore a fundamental paradox of our civility: the dependence of a civil way of life on the willingness or not to use force (uncivil means) to guarantee it. Inherent in the paradox of civility is a distaste toward coercion as a feature of our life. Arguably the study of leisure, recreation and sport has precluded the inclusion of crime and enforcement because of the antithetical character of such an intellectual pursuit. Findings from recent research reflect the operational features of this paradox:

Canadian Park Warden: Historically the Warden Service has been dominated by the view that our job was to help visitors have a pleasant experience. Consequently we are guided by the view that we should give information, and help people and not ruin their trip by giving them a ticket (Pendleton, 1997, p. 56).

A corresponding inattention to the presence of crime and the need for enforcement in recreational settings is evident in resent data reflecting institutional pressures to look the other way and/or a general lack of awareness of the nature of the phenomenon (Pendleton, 1997b,). …