Making neighborhoods safer: Examining predictors of residents’ concerns about neighborhood safety

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    Goldstein, 1994; Greenberg, Rohe, & Williams, 1982; Newman &Franck, 1980; Perkins, Meeks, & Taylor, 1992; Roman & Chaln,2008; Skogan, 1976; Taylor, 1997; White, 1990), other studies indi-cate that collective efcacy (e.g., Sampson, 2004; Sampson & Graif,2009; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999; Shamard, 2009) and/or

    Taylor & Gottfredson, 1986; Taylor, Gottfredson, & Brower, 1984).Areas that have high rates of social and physical incivilities may

    be thought of as undened public spaces (Cisnernos, 1995;Newman, 1973, 1995; Newman & Franck, 1980). The term unde-ned refers to areas that lack ownership. In such areas, residentsfeel that it is not their responsibility to monitor or maintain them.As a consequence of this lack of ownership, the rates of incivilitiesin these areas increase, leading to heightened perceptions oflawlessness and crime. Politicians and police departments often

    * Corresponding author. Tel.: 1 803 777 6797.

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    Journal of Environmental Psychology 32 (2012) 43e49E-mail addresses:, (R.O. Pitner).be one key to helping residents work together to deter crime. Itcould also lead to practical implications for improving neighbor-hood conditions for our most vulnerable communities. The purposeof this study was to examine the predictors of concerns aboutneighborhood safety.

    Which theoretical frameworks are most appropriate to examineresidents feelings of safety in these vulnerable, high crime neigh-borhoods? Prior research has been mixed on this question. Whilesome studies have concluded that broken window theory isappropriate to explain predictors of concerns about neighborhoodsafety (Bechtel & Churchman, 2002; Colquhoun, 2004; Day, 1994;

    Newman & Franck, 1980; Perkins, Florin, Rich, Wandersman, &Chavis, 1990; Perkins et al., 1992; Pitner & Astor, 2008; Pitner, Yu,& Brown, 2011; Skogan, 1976; Taylor, 1994, 1997; Taylor &Gottfredson, 1986; White, 1990). These areas are characterized byphysical incivilities (e.g., vandalism, grafti, and debris in yards)and social incivilities (e.g., noisy neighbors, prostitution, drugtrafcking, and gang-related activity) (Perkins, Wandersman, Rich,& Taylor, 1993). Research suggests that increased neighborhoodincivilities invoke perceptions of crime and disorder among resi-dents and potential offenders, which could potentially lead tohigher neighborhood crime (Perkins et al., 1992; Taylor, 1999;1. Introduction

    Community violence continues towho live in our nations most vulnhoods. Such violence leads to resideerodes away their overall perceptionTaylor, 2002). Understanding the dperceptions of neighborhood safety i0272-4944/$ e see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2011.09.003e the lives of residents, high-crime neighbor-engagement, and oftenighborhood safety (e.g.,s that affect residentshigh crime areas could

    place attachments/territoriality frameworks (e.g., Brown, Perkins, &Brown, 2003; 2004) are more appropriate.

    1.1. Toward the broken window theory hypothesis

    Physical and social cues serve as implicit markers for unsafe andviolence-prone neighborhoods (Astor, Meyer, & Pitner, 2001;Brantingham & Brantingham, 1981; Eck & Weisburd, 1995;CrimeBroken windows 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.Collective efcacycollective efcacy, and place attachments/territoriality play a role in affecting residents concerns aboutneighborhood safety.Making neighborhoods safer: Examininneighborhood safety

    Ronald O. Pitner a,*, ManSoo Yu b, Edna Brown c

    aCollege of Social Work, University of South Carolina, USAb School of Social Work and Public Health Program, University of Missouri, USAcDepartment of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Connecticut, US

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Available online 1 October 2011

    Keywords:Neighborhood violencePerceptionsIncivility

    a b s t r a c t

    This study examined whahundred and twenty-twoparticipants lived in high cperceptions of neighborhovigilance, 2) neighborhooddata were also used in th

    journal homepage: wwAll rights reserved.redictors of residents concerns about

    ctors best predict residents concerns about neighborhood safety. One-ticipants were selected from a large, Midwestern metropolitan area. Alle areas. Participants completed a 22-item questionnaire that assessed theirafety and vigilance. These items were clustered as: 1) Community care andety concerns, 3) physical incivilities, and 4) social incivilities. Police crimealyses. Our ndings suggest that aspects of the broken window theory,

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  • nmerefer to this concept as the broken window theory. This theoryposits that a sequence of events typically takes place in undenedpublic spaces:

    Evidence of decay (accumulated trash, broken windows, dete-riorating building exteriors) remains in the neighborhood fora reasonably long period of time. People who live and work inthe area feel more vulnerable and begin to withdraw. Theybecome less willing to intervene to maintain public order or toaddress physical signs of deterioration. Sensing this.offendersbecome bolder and intensify their harassment and vandalism.Residents become yet more fearful and withdraw further fromcommunity involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere thenattracts offenders from outside the area, who sense that it hasbecome a vulnerable and less risky site for crime (Wilson &Kelling, 1982).

    Several studies have documented the relation between unde-ned spaces and residents perceptions of danger (Day, 1994;Goldstein, 1994; Greenberg et al., 1982; Newman & Franck, 1980;Perkins et al., 1992; Pitner & Astor, 2008). For example, Pitner andAstor (2008) showed that children who live in high crime areaswere more likely to make harm attributions about places that theyperceived as undened. However, a question remains aboutwhether it is the perceived presence of social incivilities, theperceived presence of physical incivilities, or the perceived pres-ence of both that have the greatest associationwith concerns aboutneighborhood safety.

    1.2. Toward the collective efcacy hypotheses

    Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) contend that althoughresearch shows the connection between neighborhood incivilitiesand fear of crime, this relationship is a spurious one. For them,collective efcacy underlies both neighborhood incivilities andperceptions of neighborhood crime. Collective efcacy is anagency-oriented perspective focused on residents taking an activerole in shaping their neighborhood communities (Sampson &Raudenbush, 1999). This approach, by default, requires a highlevel of community cohesion. Such cohesion militates againstresidents fear of neighborhood crime (Sampson, 2004; Sampson &Raudenbush, 1999). More specically, decreases in collective ef-cacy increases perceptions of incivilities, and increases perceptionsof neighborhood crime. Voluminous studies have used the collec-tive efcacy framework, and suggest an inverse relationshipbetween levels of community cohesion and perceptions of neigh-borhood safety (e.g., Ferguson & Mindel, 2007; Franzini, Caughy,Spears, & Esquer, 2005; Sampson, 2004; Sampson & Graif, 2009;Sampson, Morenoff, & Earls, 1999; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999;Shamard, 2009; Wells, Schafer, Varano, & Bynum, 2006).

    1.3. Toward the place attachment/territoriality hypotheses

    Place attachment is a term used in environmental psychologythat focuses on the bonds between residents and their social andphysical settings (Brown, Perkins, & Brown, 2004). Related to this isthe term territoriality, which is dened as informal social controlthat consists of residents displaying pride and ownership of theirproperty through physical markers (e.g., gardens, planting shrubsor owers) (Perkins et al., 1993). In this study, we used the termsplace attachment and territoriality together, as research shows thatresidents who display high levels of place attachment often showstrong territorial commitment (e.g., Harris & Brown, 1996). In manyways, place attachment and territoriality are similar concepts tocollective efcacy in that they all emphasize the important role that

    R.O. Pitner et al. / Journal of Enviro44neighborhood cohesion plays in residents perceptions of safety. Infact, higher levels of place attachment/territoriality are associatedwith higher levels of collective efcacy (e.g., Long & Perkins, 2007;Tester, Ruel, Anderson, & Oakley, 2011). However, place attach-ment/territoriality differ from collective efcacy in that they alsoplace emphasis on residents feelings of pride in their home andneighborhood appearance, and on residents tenure in theirneighborhoods (Brown &Werner, 1985; Brown, Perkins, & Douglas,1992). Brown et al. (2004) suggest that decreased place attach-ments/territoriality can directly increase concerns about neigh-borhood safety.

    1.4. Present study

    The current study used the concept of community care andvigilance, which we conceptualized as a proxy for both collectiveefcacy and place attachment/territoriality. Borrowing both fromaspects of collective efcacy (i.e., willingness to take a stance againstnormviolating behaviors) and place attachment/territoriality (i.e.,neighborhood pride), we dened community care and vigilance asresidents pride in their neighborhoods and sense of community, aswell as their willingness to take action to protect their neighbor-hoods. Consistent with previous research (e.g., Sampson, 2004;Sampson & Graif, 2009; Wells et al., 2006), we hypothesize thatheightened community care and vigilance will be inversely associ-ated with residents concerns about neighborhood safety.

    Previous research has contributed signicantly to the knowl-edge base on perceptions of neighborhood safety. Nevertheless,there is a paucity of research that comprehensively examines therelationship that community care and vigilance and perceivedneighborhood incivilities have on neighborhood safety concerns forvulnerable residents in high-crime neighborhoods. Specically, is itthe sole presence of perceived physical incivilities, the sole pres-ence of perceived social incivilities, or a combined presence ofincivilities that have the greater association to safety concerns? Weexamined these issues in this study. In addition, because actualneighborhood crime (i.e., crimes against property/person) can havean important effect on residents perceptions of neighborhoodsafety, we examined whether crime played a stronger role thancommunity care and vigilance and perceived incivilities in pre-dicting residents concerns about neighborhood safety.

    1.5. Hypotheses

    The purpose of this study is to lookmore comprehensively at thepredictors of concerns about neighborhood safety among vulner-able populations. Following directly from the aforementionedtheories and supporting research, four hypotheses were tested inthis study. First, using a broken window theory paradigm, wehypothesized that both perceived physical and social incivilitieswould predict residents concerns about neighborhood safety. Wewere uncertain whether this would vary by the type of incivility(i.e., physical vs. social), or whether it would be an effect of thecombined presence of any incivility. Thus, no specic hypotheseswere stated regarding this. Second, using a collective efcacy andplace attachment/territoriality paradigm, we hypothesized thatcommunity care and vigilance would be a predictor of residentsconcerns about neighborhood safety. Third, we hypothesized thatactual crime rate (i.e., police crime reports) would predict safetyconcerns, and that this would vary by type of crime (i.e., crimesagainst property vs. crimes against person). Finally, given thatperceived incivilities can erode neighborhood social cohesion andcollective efcacy (e.g., Wells et al., 2006), we hypothesized thatincivilities (both physical and social) would be the strongestpredictor of concerns about neighborhood safety among vulnerable

    ntal Psychology 32 (2012) 43e49residents.

  • 2. Methods

    2.1. Sample and participant selection

    This study received university-level approval from the InternalReview Board. The study was conducted in an urban city withina largeMidwestern, metropolitan area. Therewere 122 participantsin this study, among whom the majority were female (82.8%).Seventy-six (65.0%) participants were African-American and 41(35.0%) were White. On average, participants lived in their neigh-borhoods for 16.6 years (SD 15.1), with a range of 0.25e52 years.Moreover, the average age was 54.1 (SD 17.7), ranging from 20 to89. Annual household income ranged from 1 (less than $10,000) to7 (more than $75,000), with the mode lying under $10,000 (43%).Detailed characteristics of the study sample are provided in Table 1.

    Participants were selected because they received free servicesfrom a non-prot organization that focused on helping residentswho live in high crime areas feel safer in their neighborhoods. Inparticular, residents were assisted with the following homeprotection devices: dead-bolt lock(s), window-ventilators, doorpeephole(s), and basement window bars. We examined a 6-monthperiod (April 2002 to September 2002) for which the non-protorganization provided services to residents. During that period,496 residents received services.

    The target city was segmented into 9 police districts. Given this,we employed a stratied random sampling procedure. Within eachof these 9 districts, the sample was stratied by month of service

    2.2. Interview procedures

    We used a mixed data collection procedure, which consisted ofmailed surveys and telephone interviews. Residents were initiallymailed surveys to be completed and returned. However, if they didnot return the survey within 3 weeks, a trained researcher con-tacted them by telephone and they then completed the survey onthe telephone. Given that we used a stratied random samplingprocedure, our study participants were representative of theoverall group of residents who received services during the monthsof April and September.

    We also collected police crime data for the 9 districts. The crimecategories (i.e., total crimes against persons and total crimes againstproperty) were coded, where lower numbers denote lower levels ofcrime and higher numbers denote higher levels.

    2.3. Instrument

    The questionnaire was created conjointly by members of ourresearch team and members from the non-prot organization.Participants completed this 22-item questionnaire that consisted ofquestions pertaining to neighborhood safety concerns (2 items),perceived environmental crime variables: community care andvigilance (6 items), physical incivilities (6 items) and social inci-vilities (4 items), as well as demographic information. Safetyconcerns assessed the degree to which the person felt unsafe in hisor her neighborhood, and the degree he or she felt it was unsafe for








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