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Social Norms Approach to Community-Based Crime Prevention: Implicit and Explicit Messages on Neighborhood Watch Signs

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2009
82 pages
In order to test the hypothesis that Neighborhood Watch signs and their content might convey to viewers that crime is a normative experience in a community, three laboratory experiments were conducted in order to examine the impact of such signs on viewers’ perceived community crime rates, perceptions of the likelihood of victimization, and estimates of community safety and quality.
One study determined that participants who viewed a Neighborhood Watch sign that contained a “High Crime” message in a middle class community reported a significantly higher likelihood of victimization, higher levels of community crime, and lower levels of perceived safety and community quality compared to those who viewed a generic sign, no sign, or a “Low Crime” message. The second study replicated the basic effects of the previous study while extending the research to include an analysis of the moderating role of community socioeconomic status (SES). The study found that in middle SES communities, participants perceived more burglary and greater likelihood of victimization when there was a Neighborhood Watch sign posted compared to the absence of such a sign. In high SES communities, on the other hand, the sign had the opposite effect. These findings are consistent with predictions based on social psychological theory. The third study, which examined the potential for the physical condition of Neighborhood Watch signs to moderate the impact of the signs in low and high SES communities, found that the presence of a defaced sign caused increased perceptions of crime and burglary rates across both low and high SES communities. In low SES communities, the presence of an aged sign led to increased perceptions of crime rates, burglary rates, and burglary victimization, along with a decreased perception that a burglar would be caught. The opposite effects were found for aged signs in high SES communities. 11 tables, 9 figures, 43 references, and appended study materials

Date Published: April 1, 2009