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Criminal Beware: A Social Norms Perspective on Posting Public Warning Signs

NCJ Number
P. Wesley Schultz, Jennifer J. Tabanico
Date Published
November 2009
22 pages
Focusing on perceptions of crime and fear of crime, this study explored the interactional effects of one community-based, crime prevention strategy, posted Neighborhood Watch signs, and provided a theoretically derived prediction about the types of communities in which it would be most effective.
Results show that posted Neighborhood Watch signs had a causal impact on worry about victimization, fear of crime, and self-protective behaviors. However, consistent with the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, the effect was not always in the desired direction. The findings begin to offer a theoretical account for why particular crime prevention activities might interact with community-level characteristics. It was argued that publicly posted Neighborhood Watch signs make prominent the contextual aspects of the community and serve to exacerbate preexisting differences. These results suggest that worry about victimization and fear of crime work at a general level rather than at a level that is crime specific. Recent studies have suggested that crime prevention strategies tend to interact with characteristics of the community in such a way that what works in one community might not work in another. Using a Focus Theory of Normative Conduct framework, this study extended this finding to fear of crime and residents' perceptions of crime. Data were reported from three experiments examining the impact of publicly posted Neighborhood Watch signs on perceived crime rates and worry about victimization. Figure and references
Date Published: November 1, 2009