Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

A Micro-Spatial Analysis of the Demographic and Criminogenic Environment of Drug Markets in Philadelphia

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

A Micro-Spatial Analysis of the Demographic and Criminogenic Environment of Drug Markets in Philadelphia

Article excerpt

Few studies have combined factors related to social disorganisation and factors related to opportunity theory at the microspatial level, with most studies aggregating to the block group or census tract. This study disaggregates block group census data in and around the vicinity of locations believed to encourage outdoor drug markets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. A location quotient analysis finds that drug arrests cluster within a block or two of many suspected crime generators/ attractors. Results from a zero-inflated Poisson model suggest some land use variables and factors associated with social disorganisation can help predict the location and size of drug markets; however, at the city level only retail alcohol outlets remained significant when combined with the social disorganisation-related variables, as a predictor of drug markets. The article discusses a number of potential reasons for these findings.


Illicit drug markets can be thought of as commercial enterprises, not unlike legitimate businesses, with their need to be situated in 'business-friendly' environments. To be successful, drug markets must be located in areas that contain, or can attract, a sufficient number of customers, and because they are illegal and often undesirable, they must be located in communities that either tolerate or are unable to resist their presence (Eck, 1995; Olligschlaeger, 1997; Rengert, 1996). Socially disorganised areas are believed to be business-friendly environments for drug markets because they are prone to contain sufficient numbers of drug users in their population, while also lacking the resources or social efficacy to prevent the establishment of the illegal trade.

To further increase the business return, drug markets may benefit from being in close proximity to certain facilities within neighbourhoods that might attract illicit drug users. Particular businesses and activity nodes (for example, liquor outlets, pawnshops, drug-treatment centres, and subway stations) located near socially disorganised areas are theorised to provide opportunities for drug markets in two ways. First, they may serve as anchors for the routine activities of drug users drawing local addicts to particular blocks, and second, because some nodes, such as subway stops and bus terminals, may increase the number of potential customers at a drug market by bringing in drug users from outside the neighbourhood. This suggests the possibility of predicting the location of drug markets within the urban landscape using two approaches, one based on the socioeconomic characteristics of neighbourhoods, and the second based on specific land-use structures that encourage drug markets within those neighbourhoods.

A number of studies have tested the relationship of drug markets to socially disorganised neighbourhoods. Other studies have mapped drug markets and measured their proximity to certain theorised criminogenic locations, essentially either crime attractors or crime generators (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1995a). In this article, we combine these approaches using a methodology recently employed by Rengert, Ratcliffe, and Chakravorty (2005). In the study that follows, we replicate their variables where possible and build on their previous study of Wilmington, Delaware (a city of some 70,000 people) with a case study in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a city of nearly 1.5 million. We use the same two-stage spatial analysis technique that combines socioeconomic, area-based characteristics derived from the census with variables that indicate proximity to crime-enabling locations.

One question that arises from the earlier study is whether the measures of proximity of drug markets to criminogenic features hold for a different urban area. For example, the Rengert et al. (2005) study found that drug arrests clustered 400 ft from taverns. There has been insufficient research to determine if these values are equally applicable beyond Wilmington, Delaware, and this study adds to the existing body of work by reporting the values for Philadelphia. …

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