Magazine article Security Management

The Risk Where We Live

Magazine article Security Management

The Risk Where We Live

Article excerpt

THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT CRIME exists in every society. Criminal behavior is so pervasive that some social theorists have asserted for various reasons that crime is actually "normal."(1)

Nonetheless, even if crime is so prevalent that it may be expected, the distribution of criminal activities is not even throughout a social area. Communities and small local areas definitely differ in their levels of criminality. This study of crime as a product of locations and the people who live there is known as the examination of the spatial ecology of criminal behavior.

Early on in the development of criminology, theorists recognized that urban areas displayed higher crime rates than rural environments did. For example, the noted theorist Louis Wirth asserted that life in the urban environment Creates "anomie," or a feeling of lack of values in a society and personal alienation among individuals.(2) Others have also suggested this view that place affects personal value systems and thus, the propensity to commit crime.(3)

Even Thomas Jefferson shared this perspective when he wrote, "When we get piled up upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become corrupt as in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do there."(4)

However this observation about urban life was not shared by all, and indeed modem experience has shown us that all urban areas are not the same, nor do they exhibit similar levels of (1) Emile Durkheim, "Crime as a Normal Phegnomenon," Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, eds., Crime and Justice, Vol. 1, (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 657-661. (2) Brian J. L. Beny, Comparative Urbanization (New York: Saint Martin's Press, 198 1), pp. 1415. (3) Berry, pp. 9-14. (4) Norman D. Levine, Human Ecology (North Scituate, MA: Duxburry Press, 1975), p. 306. criminality as do other areas.

Both earlier research and recent work have proven that urban areas are diverse, with some neighborhoods experiencing very low levels of crime while others are nearly devastated by violence and crimes against property.(5) We now recognize that even suburban and rural areas vary widely in physical and social structure and in patterns of criminal behavior.(6)

This assertion that crime and place (5) Brian J. L. Berry and P. Rees, "The Factorial Ecology of Calcutta, " American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 74, March 1969, pp. 445-491. (6) Peter Muller, Contemporary Suburban America (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 198 1). vary and are interrelated is now known as the ecological approach and has a long theoretical and empirical history in criminological studies, dating back to the 1920s.

The methodology of ecological research originally involved the analysis of concentric circles of crime patterns, using the city's center as the origin point. Other approaches looked at sectors of crime and social disorganization. Still other theorists took broad ideological stances regarding the causes of crime and its spatial distributions.(7)

More recently researchers have shifted their focus to the objective description and assessment of criminality spatial patterns without ideological bias or preconceived notions of where crime should or should not be located.

These investigations are not as concerned with theoretical explanations as they are with the mapping of crime and social and neighborhood characteristics to uncover interrelationships and predictive concordances among these variables. This study, known as a real differentiation, has produced an impressively large range of demographic, social, and criminal data for a variety of cities' subareas.

However, these elaborate data bases are primarily descriptive and do not offer much guidance to answering questions such as "Why is the crime rate of a given level in one place and not in another?"(8)

Since World War II the population of the United States has become increasingly decentralized on many dimensions. …

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