A Spatial Analysis of Crime in Vancouver, British Columbia: A Synthesis of Social Disorganization and Routine Activity Theory
Andresen, Martin A., The Canadian Geographer
Crime is a complex phenomenon that occurs when an offender, a victim and a law intersect in time and space. Crimes, whether they be property crime, violent crime, white collar crime or nuisance crime, are prevalent in all societies with many costs that are both monetary (property loss, insurance, law enforcement, the judiciary and corrections) and psychological (victimization and safety) (Sharpe 2000). Though different crimes have differential effects on the monetary and psychological costs to society, the reduction of crime, in general, has a positive effect on society.
Within the literature, social disorganization theory and routine activity theory have frequently been employed to analyze crime geographies. These theories respectively focus on issues of social deprivation and routine activities as predictors of the spatial pattern of crimes rates. This article synthesizes these theories as the basis for a spatial autocorrelation analysis of crime rates in the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA). The Vancouver CMA is the third largest metropolitan area in Canada (2 million population) and the largest metropolitan area in western Canada; the City of Vancouver, the geographic area under study, had a population of 514,000 in 1996. Vancouver has also experienced recent substantial growth in its population, by 8.5 percent from 1996 to 2001. Information is drawn from the calls for service (CFS) made to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) along with socio-demographic and socio-economic data from Statistics Canada's Census data.
Within the Canadian context, crime rates in Vancouver are higher than expected on the basis of population size. Thus, with respect to the rate for all criminal code infractions, not considering traffic offences, the Vancouver CMA (1996) is first in Canada (14,868 per 100,000 persons), more than doubling the rate found in Toronto (6,920 per 100,000 persons) and almost doubling that in Montreal (7,979 per 100,000 persons). The same relative standing holds for the property crime rate in Vancouver (10,494 per 100,000 persons) in comparison to Toronto (4,277 per 100,000 persons), and Montreal (5,351 per 100,000 persons), and to a lesser extent for the violent crime rate in Vancouver (1,325 per 100,000 persons) in comparison to Toronto (824 per 100,000 persons), and Montreal (839 per 100,000). These differences in crime rates, however, have been decreasing in recent years (Kong 1997; Wallace 2003).
This article differentiates itself from the previous literature on the geography of crime in four ways. First, Vancouver crime data have not been analyzed before at such a disaggregated spatial scale. Second, the crime data and the census data correspond to the same year. This correlation is particularly lacking, due to data availability, in the United States where the census is only performed every 10 years. The lack of correspondence between crime data and census data is a difficulty when attempting to assess causal relationships, unless one can assume neighbourhood stability in all characteristics used in the analysis. Third, an explicitly spatial analytical technique, spatial autoregression, is employed in the analysis, in contrast to much inferential work on the geography of crime that favours classical statistical analysis. Fourth, three types of crime (violent crime, break and enter, and automotive theft) are investigated separately to assess the different demographic, economic, and social attributes of census boundary units within Vancouver. Because the relationships between the set of independent variables and the different crime rates are allowed to vary, the analysis is provided with greater flexibility in assessing the predictive power of social disorganization theory and routine activity theory for different crimes in the Vancouver CMA.
The following section reviews the literature on social disorganization theory and routine activity theory in the geography of crime. Section 'Crime in Vancouver: Data and Methodology' presents the data and methodology used in the analysis. Results and discussion are put forward in section 'Interpretation of Crime Patterns within the Vancouver CMA'. Section 'Conclusions' concludes with directions for future research.
Social Disorganization and Routine Activity Theory
Spatial, or environmental/ecological, approaches to the theory of crime date back to the early nineteenth century (Guerry 1833; Quetelet 1842). Modern work on the spatial patterns of crime, however, has more specific roots in the work of Shaw (1929) and Shaw and Mackay (1942). The point of departure for research utilizing this theoretical framework is that human behaviour is situated in place; therefore, the location of crime must be (at the very least) one of the dimensions of crime under analysis. Essentially, this work acknowledges that crime has a geography. Within the geography of crime and criminological research, there are two common spatial theories of crime that relate to this early work: social disorganization theory and routine activity theory.
Social disorganization theory
The research that evolved out of the work of Shaw and Mackay (1942) found that poverty and/ or social deprivation are generally the strongest positive correlates with crime. Additionally, in association with decreased delinquency rates, the stability of the population in a neighbourhood is negatively correlated with crime (Harries 1974; Ackerman 1998). Consequently, social disorganization theory evolved from this early research on the geography of crime, arguing that a high degree of social and economic deprivation, population turnover, and ethnic heterogeneity found in a neighbourhood is associated with social disorganization (Cahill and Mulligan 2003). Curiously, a theoretically grounded empirical analysis of social disorganization theory began to emerge only in the 1980s and 1990s, most notably with the work of Linsky and Strauss (1986), Sampson and Groves (1989), and Stark (1996). These studies start from the premise that crime can only be understood in a meaningful way through the consideration of the demographic, economic, and social aspects of crime, with each of these factors having their own geography. This new research also added family disruption and urbanization as forces contributing to social disorganization (Tseloni et al. 2002).
Social disorganization theory relates these five factors (demographic, economic, social, family disruption and urbanization) to criminal events. Empirical work has focused especially on linking crime rates with measurements of poverty (measured using various income levels), unemployment rates, and neighbourhood stability (measured using the number or percentage of rental units, percentage of single parents, etc.); in general, poverty has been found to have the greatest explanatory power (Harries 1995). More recently, drawing on the theoretical work of Sampson and Groves (1989) and Stark (1996), Cahill and Mulligan (2003) use ethnic composition (the degree of ethnic mix), education (percentage of college graduates), population density and variables measuring a neighbourhood's stability to test the applicability of social disorganization theory in Tucson, Arizona. Generally speaking, their results confirm expectations with one no-table exception in regard to population density. Their analysis generates a negative relationship between violent crime and population density. This finding does not correspond to social disorganization theory, because it has the expectation that 'crowding.... [is] a mechanism for breaking down social control' (Cahill and Mulligan 2003, 607). They propose that this unexpected result is because of the low range of population densities in their study region. An alternative interpretation for this result is provided below.
Routine activity theory
In its founding article by Cohen and Felson (1979), routine activity theory sought to predict changes in criminal activity through changes in the activities routinely engaged by the victims of crime. These activities are defined as 'any recurrent and prevalent activities which provide for basic population and individual needs, whatever their biological or cultural origins' (Cohen and Felson 1979, 593). Given that there must be the combination of an offender, a suitable target or victim, and a perceived lack of guardianship or protection for a crime to occur, it is expected that those with routine activities within or close to home have a lower risk of certain types of victimization as there is a higher degree of guardianship at the home (Clarke and Felson 1993). Consequently, whether routine activities are going to work, shop or recreate, the act of leaving the protective environment of the home necessarily places one in harms way or in a context …
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Publication information: Article title: A Spatial Analysis of Crime in Vancouver, British Columbia: A Synthesis of Social Disorganization and Routine Activity Theory. Contributors: Andresen, Martin A. - Author. Journal title: The Canadian Geographer. Volume: 50. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 487+. © 2001 Canadian Association of Geographers. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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