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The risk where we live.

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. The shift from rail to highway transportation has led to (7) Clifford Shaw and H. McKay, Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942). (8) Calvin Schmid, "Urban Crime Areas," Part 1, American Sociological Review, Vol. 25, 1960, pp. 527-543, and Urban Crime Areas," Pan 2, American Sociological Review, Vol. 25, 1960, pp. 665-678. suburbanization and has radically changed the social and economic structure of our cities and their hinterlands.

As a result, we need now to look at population shifts, neighborhood change, and associated alterations in criminal behavior. We also need to determine the interrelationships that exist among these variables and their associations.

In his seminal work, Human Ecology, Amos Hawley attempted to identify differing population areas, determine how they differ, and discover how these areas are interrelated and interconnected. In addition he sought to link population shifts to social change. Communities, neighborhoods, and social groups interrelate and affect each other. Change in one area is related to change in other places.(9)

Today, sophisticated research methodologies relating crime to geography examine, among other concepts, the interplay between changing land use and the character of social life in the affected communities.

Researchers have shown that land use patterns cause population shifts, which can then produce a change in the criminal activity of that area. In addition, the resulting impact of crime can be destructive to neighborhood vitality and threaten the existence of a local-area social structure.(10)

Crime and residential and commercial activity are definitely related, as these recent studies have shown. Crime levels play an important role in the decision-making process regarding where people choose to live or locate a business. For many residential and commercial relocation decisions, crime is the single most important consideration.(11)

This discussion is further complicated by research that now shows that crime is not only related to the characteristics of the victim's environment but also related to changes in the spatial mobility of criminals.

This reality requires that we now study the patterns of criminal movements in addition to understanding the characteristics of opportunity or victim factors. No longer can we assume the simplistic relationship of similarity between victim and offender environments. As offender mobility increases, so does the range of targets.

Crime is related to population characteristics, physical environmental factors, and mobility patterns. The joint assessment of these factors requires that a sophisticated, multiperspective approach be taken to develop useful and valid anticipatory strategies in crime prevention and control.

Studies based on the National Crime Survey of victims - which looks at personal victimization, age of the victim, extent of urbanization, neighborhood poverty, racial composition, and neighborhood structural density-show that the extent of urbanism, housing density, and poverty are significant predictors of violent and property crime.

Interestingly, housing density is related to criminality both in urbanized and in less populated areas. Of course, in urban areas, poverty further acts with density to accentuate crime levels. "

Other studies report that the decline of inner city population, poor and vacant housing, and shifting population compositions all contribute to sustained criminal activity and that this relation(9) Amos Hawley, Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure (New York: Ronald Press, 1950). (10) Solomon Kobrin and Leo Shbuerman, "Crime and Urban Ecological Process: Implications for Public Policy, " paper presented to the American Society of Criminology, 1983. (11) Martin Katzman, "The Contribution of Crime to Urban Decline, " Urban Studies, Vol. 17, 1980, pp. 277-286. (12) Robert J. Sampson, "The Effects of Urbanization and Neighborhood Characteristics on Criminal Victimization," in Robert M. Figlio, Simon Hakim, and George F. Rengert, Metropolitan Crime Patterns (Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press, 1986), pp. 3-25. ship also holds for areas outside the inner City.(13)

Further, these criminogenic characteristics of the inner city have been shown to have appeared and persisted into the outlying suburban areas over the last three decades.(14)

As a result, the traditionally accepted gradient of crime reduction as a function of distance from the center of a city no longer applies in many metropolitan areas. Crime in suburbia now is a relevant concern for crime control agencies, rivaling that of the importance of inner city criminality.

Criminals who live near each other tend to travel in certain recognizable patterns along similar routes to commit similar types of crime. In other words, definable corridors of crime do exist and are empirically discernible.(15)

Of particular note for crime-control agencies is the finding that over a 20year period, the clustering of robberies in geographic space has declined. Essentially, robbers' activities are more diffused over a larger area than before.(16) Basically, criminals' residences have dispersed over larger areas, but the spread of their criminal activities has exceeded that dispersion. In other words, criminals have become more mobile.

However, this diffusion process is (13) "Lyle W. Shannon, "Ecological Evidence of the Hardening of the Inner City," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 27-54. (14) John M. Stahura and C. Ronald Huff, "Crime in Suburbia, 1960-1980," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 55-70. (15) C. Michael Costanzo, William C. Halperin, and Nathan Gale, "Criminal Mobility and the Directional Component in Journeys to Crime," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 73-96. (16) Ralph Lenz, "Geographical and Temporal Changes Among Robberies in Milwaukee," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 97-116. (17) Alicia Rand, "Mobility Triangles," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 117-126. (18) Marcus Felson, "Predicting Crime Potential at Any Point on the City Map," Metropolitan Crime Patterns, pp. 127-138. not universal over crime type. Personal victimizations tend to occur near the victim's residence, while thefts are more related to opportunity and predictable pathways.(17)

Of additional importance in this regard, especially in the context of the work we have undertaken at CAP Index Inc., is the significant finding concerning the relative safety of a neighborhood. The foreseeability of crime there is not simply a function of that neighborhood's characteristics but also a function of the adjacent and adjoining areas' social and physical structures.(18)

Underlying all of these discussions is a common theme that relates community structure and its decline to social disorganization manifested in the loss of social control and the rise of criminal activity. A strong relationship exists among definable and measurable indicators of social disorganization and crime as measured by available indices.

These indicators are carefully specified measures of demographic characteristics, housing conditions and value, population mobility, neighborhood social change, and criminality, all as they relate to small geographical areas.

The interrelationship of these measures may be diagrammed in structural terms as shown in Exhibit 1. By factoring these variables into the model and using regression techniques, which take into account the linear and nonlinear aspects of their interrelationships, the risk of crime at specific geographic locations can be determined with a high degree of accuracy.

The model says, essentially, that social disorganization and crime are interrelated, as indicated by the bidirectional arrow, and that the variables in the boxes are indicators of that underlying relationship.

Additionally, by applying the model to adjoining geographical areas, it is possible to anticipate avenues of crime that allow the migration of criminal activity from one area to another, as discussed earlier.

This model has been extensively validated throughout the United States. As a result, the determination of projected crime risk or foreseeability is now possible for practically any geographical unit in the country. Further, the potential for crime at any location in the future can be determined by the introduction of the appropriate demographic projections into the model.

Useful data for security decision making, site selection, and strategic planning can be generated from demographic-geographic models such as this. For example, crime risks of any site relative to that location's local environment can be produced. This local index" is useful in assessing the security needs of local areas where perceptions about crime severity may vary dramatically.

Additionally, the site's vulnerability to crime can be determined relative to the average of the whole United States by comparing the risk at that site to "Main Street, USA. " This kind of projection finds its use in multilocation environments where security decision makers need to prioritize security resources over a wide range of locations.

Such a general crime risk assessment, because it places all sites into a common context-the US average-makes it possible to perform rational, objective comparisons of crime potentials in larger, multisite operations.

These kinds of data can be presented in accessible geographical formats, such as a bar chart as shown in Exhibit 2.

We have taken a rather abstract theory about the spatial distribution of crime and the interrelationships that exist among this distribution and the characteristics of crime-prone environments and statistically modeled the geography of crime."

We have validated this model of structural relationships of demography, neighborhood characteristics, population mobility, and crime to produce a useful, applied tool for determining, with a high degree of accuracy, the risk of criminal activity for a wide variety of serious crime for any location in the United States.

This application of a wide range of theoretical perspectives into a practical decision-making tool represents a sophisticated, state-of-the-art approach for addressing the crucial issue of foreseeing crime at specific locations.

Such a determination is extremely important for crime deterrence and control. We now have tools developed from a long theoretical tradition and validated with extensive data bases to answer this need satisfactorily. Robert M. Figlio is professor of sociology, deviance, and socio-legal studies at the University of California at Riverside and president of CAP Index Inc. in King of Prussia, PA. CAP Index Inc. specializes in providing crime forecastability assessments for any location in the United States.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue; statistical method in crime forecasting
Author:Figlio, Robert M.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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