Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Different places, different problems: profiles of crime and disorder at residential parcels”, by O’Brien, D. T.; Ristea, A.; Hangen, F. and Tucker, R. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know how the crime varies according to the place in the city.

In the past few years there has been a growing interest in the study of problematic areas in cities, as they are considered to have very high concentrations of crime and social disorder. 

Literature to date has revealed that there are important differences in the different zones: what crime is like, what the disorganization is like in them… but there hasn’t been a deep study of the subject. 

With the most recent research, it has been seen that there are many variations of disorder and criminality depending on the neighborhood; for example, there are some of them with social disorder, but no physical disorder, and so on. Understanding this diversity would be very important in order to prepare better the interventions to mitigate the negative consequences of the issue. 

In the current study, plots of different areas of Boston are studied. The first objective is to know whether they all exhibit crime and disorder in similar ways or whether they differ in multiple profiles. On the other hand, the authors aim to get, with the typology obtained, how, and to what extent, different types of crime and disorder coexist. 

One idea mentioned by the authors is that, as a general rule, much more attention is usually paid to places with a high crime rate, which, ironically, represent a very small proportion of the communities. 

This is something that criminology specialized in the subject has already mentioned in the most recent studies. It explains that between 4 and 6% of problematic streets in a city represent more than the 50% of the crimes that occur in the whole city, regardless of its type or its size. 

It has also been shown that concentrations of crime on a certain street tend to persist over time, and when crime increases or decreases on that type of streets, it is often an indicator of citywide crime trends. 

On the other hand, based on previous literature, it looks that property parcels that experience many burglaries maintain this trend over time. 

It is interesting to mention the “crime pattern theory”, which argues that the activities and people associated with a particular place determine the frequency and way in which offenders, victims, and context interact with each other. This, in turn, shapes the likelihood and nature of crime and disorder in the place. 

Thus, situational crime prevention emphasizes the need to use small modifications in these places so that they alter their opportunity structure. For example, providing better lines of sight to those in charge of security in the area, or designating the role of “place manager” to property owners in the area. 

The current study analyzes the distribution of various types of crime and disorder in a series of residential parcels in Boston, Massachusetts (USA). For this purpose, records from the emergency telephone number, 911, were used. A total of 81,673 plots were studied. 

The analysis identified several disorder and crime profiles in the areas analyzed: four of the most important were public denigration, private neglect, private conflicts, and gun-related events. It also identified the existence of so-called “violent centers” that concentrate many types of problems. The latter were almost completely isolated from other troubled neighborhoods. 

The authors comment, interestingly, that the crime and disorder profiles of each parcel tended to specialize in a single type of problem, with the exception of violent centers that combined several problems (but accounted for only 0.2% of the total). 

This tendency can be understood in terms of routine activities and related theories. Each place is characterized by the people who frequent it, their propensity to offend, the contextual factors of the place… This makes the specialization more striking, as it could be that something about the individuals involved, or something in their dynamics, makes them prone to experience a problem or live events and circumstances that make them more vulnerable to one type of delinquency. 

The findings are important because they show the need to take measures that are tailored to the neighborhoods where they will be applied, so that their effectiveness is as expected, and the tools used are specialized and nuanced to perfect the interventions. 

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