Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Neighborhood Residents' Fear of Crime: A Tale of Three Cities

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Neighborhood Residents' Fear of Crime: A Tale of Three Cities

Article excerpt

Neighborhood characteristics impact residents' fear of crime. Empirical research supports these ideas, but the majority of these studies are based on residents of a single city. The relationship between social control, disorder, perceptions of crime, and residents' fear of crime has not been fully explored across multiple cities. The current study examines the relationship between residents' perceptions of neighborhood safety, disorder, and social control using survey data from residents across three cities in the United States. The findings suggest that shared expectations lead to decreased fear, while increased levels of social disorder lead to a greater fear of crime across each of the three cities. Other factors, including perceptions of crime, exposure to victimization, and demographic characteristics are not consistently related to the fear of crime. This suggests the structural impact of city factors, or increases in disorder and crime, might be influencing the perceptions of risk and constrained behaviors of residents.

Much of the empirical research on fear of crime in neighborhoods focused on analyses restricted to one city (Doran and Lees 2005; Raudenbush and Sampson 1999; Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Skogan 1990; Taylor 2001). Many of these studies examined large cities, such as Chicago (Raudenbush and Sampson 1999; Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Skogan 1990) or Baltimore (Taylor 2001). St. Jean (2007) wrote that Chicago is an ideal study location, as the variation across neighborhoods provided a host of data that were useful to analyze using criminological theories of broken windows and collective efficacy. While the cross-neighborhood analyses provide insight into how the fear of crime relates to disorder and social control, we cannot make assumptions about how these relationships play out across different cities (see also Swatt et al. 2013).

If residents maintain a greater fear of crime, they are more likely to avoid certain places in their neighborhoods (Taylor 2001; Taylor, Shumaker, and Gottfredson 1985). Residents may also have an increased fear of others in their neighborhoods and may be unwilling to build social networks with neighbors (Skogan 1990). Understanding how the fear of crime affects residents in a particular neighborhood is important for crime reduction policies to be effective (Roh and Oliver 2005; Taylor and Hale 1986). Much empirical research focused on the ways that neighborhood elements (such as physical disorder and the makeup of social networks) interacted with resident fear (Skogan 1990; Skogan and Maxfield 1981; Swatt et al. 2013; Taylor 2001; Warr 1990). While differences among neighborhoods might indeed be relevant, these studies do not consider how the effects of fear might differ across cities. Each neighborhood is policed by city officers, which impacts residents' fear. In neighborhoods where the relationship between police officers and residents is positive, the presence of officers translates into less fear. The presence of police will not reduce fear in communities where residents mistrust the police. We should not assume disorder and social control are similarly related to fear across cities since cities differ in make-up and structure.

Research on neighborhood crime and fear is often restricted to one city (Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Skogan 1990; Swatt et al. 2013; Taylor 2001), which does not account for variation across cities or how city structure differentially affects fear. In addition, many studies that focus on nationally representative samples of respondents lack the city comparison component. These studies assumed individuals across different cities react to neighborhood conditions in similar ways (Rader, Cossman, and Porter 2012). The current study examines a proxy of fear of crime across three cities in the United States. These cities are approximately the same size, and demographic characteristics of the residents are similar across the census tracts. …

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