Spatial Dimensions of Fear in a High-Crime Community: Fear of Crime or Fear of Disorder?

By Kohm, Steven A. | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Spatial Dimensions of Fear in a High-Crime Community: Fear of Crime or Fear of Disorder?


Kohm, Steven A., Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


Introduction

For evaluation purposes, community-based crime-prevention strategies often focus on possible reductions to fear of crime (Crawford 1998) as well as on various types of disorder or so-called quality-of-life concerns (Wilson and Kelling 1982; Skogan 1990; Matthews 1992). The measurement of crime, disorder, and levels of fear in communities has, therefore, become integral to assessing the efficacy of community crime prevention. In this article, I present the findings of a study of fear of crime in a high-crime, inner-city neighbourhood in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I propose a method of conceptualizing the relationship among disorder, crime, and fear that merges perceptual mapping with traditional measures of fear of crime and disorder. This analysis serves to help us understand how crime and fear of crime work to restrict individual activity and adds to a limited literature on the consequences of fear of crime. The results presented here provide support for the general link between fear of crime and disorder, while uncovering distinct spatial patterns of fear associated with crime and disorder.

I begin by outlining the salient research on fear of crime and the relationship among disorder, crime, and fear. Next, I provide details on the community context in which the research was carried out. Following this, I discuss levels of fear of crime, victimization, and disorder in the study area by contrasting the survey results with figures from the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS). This provides a jumping-off point for a consideration of the spatial dimensions of fear of crime revealed in a perceptual-mapping exercise carried out in conjunction with the local survey. I conclude by reflecting upon the significance of these spatial patterns of fear to the debate on the relationship among disorder, crime, and fear. The policy implications of these spatial patterns of fear are also discussed at this time.

Issues for measuring fear of crime

An increase in public fear of crime is thought likely to impair quality of life by restricting individual movement, decreasing general sociability, reducing mutual trust, and impeding informal social controls, all of which may ultimately lead to public streets becoming even more dangerous (Conklin 1975; Hale 1996; McIntyre 1967). This is of particular concern in lower-income, inner-city neighbourhoods, which tend to experience higher rates of crime than suburban neighbourhoods (Fitzgerald, Wisener, and Savoie 2004).

Since the 1960s, criminologists have grappled with methodological and conceptual issues stemming from treating fear of crime as an object of analysis. Fear of crime can be thought of as both an emotional and a physiological response to some imminent danger (Ferraro 1995: 24). As Mark Warr (2000) suggests, fear of crime is "an emotion, a feeling of alarm or dread caused by an awareness or expectation of danger" (453). Measuring dread and anxiety, however, is a complex task and difficult to tap through surveys, save perhaps in the case of a general assessment of worry. In one of the few studies to assess the intensity and frequency of worry, Farrall and Gadd (2004) found only a small percentage of respondents (15%) who worried about being victimized with any regularity. In fact, most surveys purporting to assess fear of crime use questions that ask people to conduct a risk assessment (How worried are you about ...?) or explore behavioural outcomes (Do you feel safe walking alone in your neighbourhood at night?).

Garofalo (1981) suggested that fear ought to be differentiated from worry in that fear is generally regarded as an emotional response to an imminent threat of violence, while worry is more cerebral and calculated and may better apply to concern about potential property loss or destruction. Similarly, Ferraro (1995) contends that much conceptual confusion stems from a failure to differentiate properly between fear of crime and perceived risk of crime.

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