An Analysis of the Mediating Effects of Social Relations and Controls on Neighborhood Crime Victimization

Article excerpt

Abstract: Recent tests of systemic social disorganization theory focus on specifying types of informal and formal controls and their ability to mediate the impact of negative structural conditions on neighborhood crime rates. However, a majority of these studies use measures that confound the quality of the relationships needed to develop both informal and formal control with the willingness to exercise these controls. We contribute to this body of literature by making a distinction between the quality of relationships that facilitate the ability to use controls (e.g., social cohesion and police-citizen relations) and the willingness to exercise informal and formal control. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that social cohesion, informal control, police-citizen relations, and formal control differentially mediate the impact that neighborhood structural characteristics have on interpersonal violence and specific types of property crime victimization. Further, we argue that the effects of informal control will be stronger than the effects of formal control, and that the impact of social cohesion and police-citizen relations will be partially mediated by their influence on the exercise of these controls. The results of our hierarchical generalized linear models show that social cohesion, informal control, police-citizen relations, and formal control differentially mediate the impact of neighborhood structural conditions on violent crime and property crime victimization. Our results suggest that strategies needed to prevent violent crime are different than those needed to prevent property crime.

Keywords: social disorganization, collective efficacy, informal control, formal control, crime, victimization

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INTRODUCTION

Since the early 1980s, social disorganization theory has experienced a revitalization in the academic literature. Much of the recent research focuses on extending systemic social disorganization theory by attempting to specify the factors that mediate the impact negative social structural characteristics (e.g., poverty, racial/ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility) have on neighborhood crime. Most of these studies test the mediating effects of social cohesion, relational ties, attachments, or networks (e.g., Bellair 1997; Lowenkamp, Cullen, and Pratt 2003; Markowitz et al. 2001; Sampson and Groves 1989; Warner and Rountree 1997). More recent research has turned to specifying the sources of informal and/or formal controls (Renauer 2007; Silver and Miller 2004; Triplett, Gainey, and Sun 2003; Wells et al. 2006) and assessing the impact that informal and formal controls have on mediating structural conditions on neighborhood crime rates (Clear et al. 2003; Goudriaan, Wittebrood, and Nieuwbeerta 2006; Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls 1997; Triplett, Sun, and Gainey 2005; Velez 2001).

Although a growing body of literature has focused on specifying types of informal and formal control and their ability to mediate the impact of negative structural conditions, many of these studies have created measures that focus on either the ability or the willingness of residents to enact control (Triplett et al. 2005). Furthermore, it has been argued that some studies use measures that confound the quality of the relationships that foster the ability to use social controls with the willingness to exercise them (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003; Lowenkamp et al. 2003; Rhineberger-Dunn and Carlson 2009; Triplett et al. 2005). Similarly, a variety of policing-related variables have been used to measure formal control, albeit most confound the issue of relationships between police and neighborhood residents with the exercise of formal control itself (Rhineberger-Dunn and Carlson 2009).

The basic tenets of systemic social disorganization theory suggest that relational variables and control variables should differentially mediate the effects of structural conditions on neighborhood crime rates (Bursik and Grasmick 1993). …