An Examination of the Assumption That Adult Businesses Are Associated with Crime in Surrounding Areas: A Secondary Effects Study in Charlotte, North Carolina

By Linz, Daniel; Land, Kenneth C. et al. | Law & Society Review, March 2004 | Go to article overview

An Examination of the Assumption That Adult Businesses Are Associated with Crime in Surrounding Areas: A Secondary Effects Study in Charlotte, North Carolina


Linz, Daniel, Land, Kenneth C., Williams, Jay R., Paul, Bryant, Ezell, Michael E., Law & Society Review


Recent Supreme Court decisions have signaled the need for sound empirical studies of the secondary effects of adult businesses on the surrounding areas for use in conjunction with local zoning restrictions. This study seeks to determine whether a relationship exists between adult erotic dance clubs and negative secondary effects in the form of increased numbers of crimes reported in the areas surrounding the adult businesses, in Charlotte, North Carolina. For each of 20 businesses, a control site (matched on the basis of demographic characteristics related to crime risk) is compared for crime events over the period of three years (1998-2000) using data on crime incidents reported to the police. We find that the presence of an adult nightclub does not increase the number of crime incidents reported in localized areas surrounding the club (defined by circular areas of 500- and 1,000-foot radii) as compared to the number of crime incidents reported in comparable localized areas that do not contain such an adult business. Indeed, the analyses imply the opposite, namely, that the nearby areas surrounding the adult business sites have smaller numbers of reported crime incidents than do corresponding areas surrounding the three control sites studied. These findings are interpreted in terms of the business mandates of profitability and continuity of existence of the businesses.

Introduction

In a 1977 ABC News Special entitled Sex for Sale: The Urban Battleground, Howard K. Smith concluded a segment with the following:

Commercial sex is often called a victimless crime. We have shown that a glomeration of sex businesses, in fact, have many victims. Residents move out of the areas from fear, customers desert legitimate shops which have to sell out at a loss. City dwellers are victimized by having to pay more taxes to make up for the areas that are in arrears because of sex businesses. In the spreading decay, muggers, dope pushers move in. It's harder to spot their crimes in a general sea of rot. Police and courts tend to give up. Civilization living by rules moves out and we're all victims. Better solutions may emerge, but for now the Detroit plan is the best in sight. Leave aside individual arrests for obscenity, which the law seems to have an impossible time denning. Pass a zoning law allowing no sex-related establishment or service to exist within three blocks, say, of any other. Let none become the nucleus for a cancerous spread.

In the summer of 1976, the city of Detroit, Michigan introduced zoning laws designed to break up the concentrated areas containing sex-related "adult" businesses.1 The assumption driving the dispersion of concentrated adult businesses was the presumed negative "secondary effects" of these businesses on the surrounding neighborhood. Enthusiasm for the Detroit zoning approach quickly spread to other cities.

This diffusion of the Detroit zoning approach throughout the nation over the last 25 years has produced a continuing history of constitutional litigation. Since 1976, the Supreme Court has decided a series of cases focusing on whether the free speech clause of the First Amendment allows cities and states to enact legislation controlling the location of adult businesses on the basis of presumed negative secondary effects.2

The Court's Presumption of Adverse Secondary Effects

The rationale for the secondary effects doctrine was most completely laid out in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., in 1986. In Renton, the Supreme Court considered the validity of a Renton municipal ordinance that prohibited any adult theater from locating within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, family dwelling, church, park, or school. The Court's analysis of the ordinance proceeded in three steps. First, the Court found that the Renton ordinance did not ban adult theaters altogether, but merely required that they be a certain distance from so-called "sensitive locations." The ordinance, the Court said, was properly considered to be a time, place, and manner regulation. …

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