COMMUNITIES: POLICY IMPLICATIONS

Violent crime tends to be concentrated in certain places, and everyone knows what a violent neighborhood looks like. The relationship between violence and community characteristics is one of the most obvious to the lay observer, but operationalizing the characteristics of a community that cause violent crime is especially difficult; coming up with ways to address those characteristics is more difficult still. We found that some of the indicators used by authors to identify the theoretically important construct of social disorganization, such as ethnic heterogeneity, residential instability, disrupted families, and “neighborhood integration” (social networks, collective efficacy) were associated with both violent and nonviolent crime. This was true even controlling for concentrated disadvantage. We do not find evidence that these are more consistently associated with violent crime, and there are no studies comparing the residences of violent to nonviolent offenders, so we cannot list social disorganization or other community characteristics as differential predictors of violence at this time. Thus, we have only ambiguous support for the idea that addressing “social disorganization” directly would prevent violence, if the ills of concentrated disadvantage were not also addressed. This is surprising given the surge in “broken windows” policing strategies that target disorder.

Qualitative research on violent subcultures suggests that this is an important source of violence. Research spanning almost 100 years testifies to the fact that some places are criminogenic (e.g., Park, 1925; Shaw & McKay, 1942) and also have long-term effects on the individuals growing up there (e.g., Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov, & Sealand, 1993). Thus, we see the potential for success of community interventions that address this risk factor, but good ideas for actual interventions are wanting. Directly addressing violent subcultural values is generally taken up in schools through anti-violence propaganda in their curricula. When schools are embedded in violent neighborhoods and children live in violent families, however, violent values and norms are still disseminated in a virulent way, and messages provided in the sterile comfort of the school classroom may not be adequate to overcome them. It is possible, and we guess likely, that addressing other problems will have an impact on violent attitudes. Giving residents something to lose, in the form of jobs, pleasant surroundings, and material possessions and comfort, gained through legitimate means, is likely to have the effect of vesting them in their community. This is due, in part, to the fact that gaining material possessions through the legitimate system is inherently more desirable than using violence, because violence is dangerous, and the use of violence, on a chronic basis, is inconsistent with human nature. Human nature allows for violence under situations of threat, but the mainstay of human nature is sociability. Situations that incur/impose constant threat are likely to stimulate pathological responses, such as the development of a violent subculture. If we change those situations, the violent subculture is likely to dissipate.

Communities play host to a variety of risk factors for violent crime, some of which could be addressed through urban planning and order maintenance, some through economic intervention, some (such as availability of firearms and drugs) through policing, and some through creative enterprises designed to create prosocial networks (Bownes & Ingersoll, 1997).

Sampson (2011) outlines his own recommendations for policy that address issues of social disorganization and collective efficacy. First, and most basically, he advocates the identification of neighborhoods that are crime hot spots. Policing hot spots has been found to be effective in reducing crime at places (e.g., Braga, 2005). Second, he advocates physical intervention, such as rehabilitation of low- income housing and code enforcement, as well as efforts in the “fixing broken windows” model, such as cleaning up trash and graffiti, staggering bar closing times, enacting zoning ordinances, minimizing public drinking and street prostitution, and the creation of prosocial neighborhood groups, such as walking or sports clubs, to conduct activities in public spaces. He emphasizes the building of informal social networks through supervised leisure-time youth activities, reducing street-corner congregation in high crime areas, involving parents in night time and after school supervision of youth programs, and doing what can be done to foster programs that allow acquaintanceships between adults and youths in the community. Importantly, he advocates “scattered-site” new housing to strategically deconcentrate poverty through the creation of mixed-income housing development with incentives for including low-income residences amidst middle- income homes. This holistic view touches upon a large number of risk factors simultaneously.

Mass incarceration policy is thought to have caused much of the disorder found in some communities (e.g., Tonry, 1995). Former inmates tend to resettle near one another, in neighborhoods characterized by the very things we believe cause crime: social disorganization, poverty, social isolation, and low informal social control. Clear (2008) argues that mass incarceration has undermined the very structure of families, parenting and family functioning in these communities.

Programs referred to as “community-based prevention” range from gun buyback programs, to mentoring, after school recreation, and gang intervention (Welsh & Hoshi, 2002). It is difficult to find any programs designed to focus on neighborhood disorganization or social networks. In some ways, counseling centers or community centers could be seen in this light, but they are unlikely to change the character of the community as a whole. Certain provisions of community policing, such as reducing signs of disorder by clamping down on minor infractions, were designed to reduce disorganization through fixing “broken windows,” and some have claimed credit for crime reductions due to these practices. Perhaps because the scope is large, the connection between theory and intervention murky, and the exigencies of other goals in urban development more pressing to developers, community-wide interventions are fewer in number than we would expect based on demand and potential. We will highlight two approaches that have been discussed in the literature: Communities that Care and Operation Weed and Seed.

 
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