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Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods--Does It Lead to Crime?- Research in Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2001
6 pages
Publication Series
This study, part of the long-range Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, assesses the "broken windows" thesis (social and physical disorder in urban neighborhoods can lead to serious crime) and its implications for crime-control policy and practice.
The amount of disorder in the neighborhoods studied was measured by directly observing what was happening on the streets during the day. Trained observers videotaped what was happening on the face blocks of more than 23,000 streets in 196 neighborhoods that varied by race/ethnicity and social class. Counted as signs of physical disorder were such items as garbage on the streets, litter, graffiti, abandoned cars, and needles and syringes. Counted as signs of social disorder were such activities as loitering, public consumption of alcohol, public intoxication, presumed drug sales, and the presence of groups of youth that manifested signs of gang membership. To determine the extent of neighborhood collective efficacy, some 3,800 residents of these neighborhoods were interviewed. Police records were examined for counts of three types of crime: homicide, robbery, and burglary. Disorder and crime alike were found to stem from certain neighborhood structural characteristics, notably concentrated poverty. Homicide was among the offenses for which there was no direct relationship with disorder. Disorder was directly linked only to the level of robbery. In neighborhoods where collective efficacy was strong, rates of violence were low, regardless of sociodemographic composition and the amount of disorder observed. Collective efficacy also appears to deter disorder. The findings thus imply that although reducing disorder may reduce crime, this occurs indirectly by stabilizing neighborhoods through collective efficacy. 7 notes

Date Published: February 1, 2001