Community: Conditioned by Collective Efficacy, Trust in the Police, and Fear of Retaliation

Some fieldwork delves into the intricacies of collective efficacy and provides insight into the differential effect of violent values and behavior. The work of Venkatesh (1997) suggests that neighbors are hesitant to mobilize against violent gangs because gangs are seen as providing protection in a violent environment. Venkatesh conducted fieldwork in a large public housing development in a disadvantaged neighborhood of a Midwestern US city. A local gang, the Saints, was firmly entrenched in the neighborhood. While the Saints were responsible for violent altercations within the neighborhood, Venkatesh is clear that community opinion about the Saints was very mixed. Significant segments of the population desired the removal of the gang; however, some residents acknowledged that the protection of the Saints was better than being vulnerable to attacks by a rival gang. As one resident states,

[The Saints] make our lives miserable, but if we piss them off, police ain’t gonna come ‘round here and help us out. And, shit, I gotta tell you, that most of the time it’s nice, ‘cause they make sure I don’t get robbed up in here, they walk through the building . . . police never did that! It’s when the wars start that I don’t really feel safe, you know? Most of the time, it’s OK. (p. 103)

Another resident explains, “Call me what you want, but all I know is that [the Saints] is the ones providing security around here, not the police. And, my brother was a Saint when he was younger, so you know, it’s a community thing” (p. 95). Venkatesh’s (1997) findings suggest that residents’ exercise ofprivate- or parochial- level collective efficacy may depend on their trust in the police. This conclusion is supported in a study by Carr (2003) who conducted extensive ethnography and interviewed adult members of the “Beltway Night Patrol” neighborhood watch group in a relatively homogenous, residentially stable, high income and low crime neighborhood in Chicago. Over the course of his study, Carr observed community members mobilize to pressure local government agencies to shut down a local bar that attracted social disorder. Despite this demonstrated capability of residents to exercise collective efficacy, Carr found that a majority of his respondents reported being unwilling to personally intervene when local adolescents caused disorder or engaged in violence, out of fear that they would be victimized themselves. In this middle-class environment, residents felt comfortable relying on formal social control: calling the police.

In violent communities, residents are often afraid of retaliation. In East New York, Brooklyn, and the South Bronx, Wilkinson (2007) found that collective efficacy was high. Adults in the neighborhood were rated as relatively willing to intervene in cases of vandalism or to stop young children from fighting. Almost unanimously, however, survey respondents reported that adults were unwilling to intervene when teens were engaged in drug dealing or violent encounters. When Wilkinson inquired as to why this is the case, many respondents replied that it was because the adults know that the teenagers are prepared to attack anyone who interferes in their business.

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