Neighbourhood watch! April 13, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Interesting piece in Slate.com a while back on Neighbourhood Watch programmes. This was on foot of the fatal shooting of a young black teenager in Florida by a ‘self-appointed captain of an unregistered neighbourhood watch’. The story itself is a tragic one which points to serious deficits in the law in that state in relation to the powers of individuals to use firearms.
But a central question asked is whether such programs decrease crime rates. The evidence according to the piece is very very unclear. The single most exhaustive examination of data on the subject was conducted some years back by the University of Glamorgan.
…looking at 19 studies conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia since 1977. Its authors conclude that neighborhood watch programs produce a 16-percent drop in crime, on average, but they concede research in this field is complicated. Many of the studies are anecdotal. Very few are adequately controlled or randomized, and the best-known experiment to date—one that was carried out in Minneapolis during the 1980s—showed no impact on crime whatsoever.
As interesting is the following.
Most programs spring up in white, middle- or upper-income communities—the kind of places where crime isn’t a major problem to begin with. As a result, the programs don’t have the potential to make a significant impact, and any effect they might have on crime rates is difficult for researchers to detect. Neighborhood watches also tend to be short-lived in affluent communities, as residents stop meeting when they realize their increased vigilance is making little difference.
The program can even have a negative impact on middle-class communities. Some studies suggest that neighborhood watch makes residents feel less safe, because it constantly reminds them of the possibility of crime.
This is fascinating in terms of class aspects. Given the media discourse people would be forgiven for thinking that crime was prevalent everywhere, but of course it impacts disproportionately on those on lower and no incomes. There’s a telling passage in a Lawrence Block novel – one based on his semi-humourous Bernie Rhodenbarr character, who is himself a burglar, where Rhodenbarr notes that those in working class areas have the most security on their doors, using simple but effective traditional locks whereas those in expensive apartments tend to trust in single expensive locks which are relatively easy to break when the right tools are available. Let’s not assume that’s a scientific study of the area, but there’s a certain element of truth in it one suspects.
Neighborhood watch has the potential to make a difference in low-income, high-crime communities, but it rarely gets off the ground in those areas. Many residents don’t trust their neighbors, so they won’t attend or host community meetings, let alone patrol the streets at night. Distrust of police is also a factor, as local sheriffs are often the ones who provide training and support for the program. In the Minneapolis study of the 1980s, researchers found that, no matter how much effort they put into advertising neighborhood watch in high-crime communities, participation remained low.
Those with experience of such matters here will know the difficulties attendant on organising in communities. It’s not that there’s no support for community activism, but there are some fairly clear fault lines. And there’s also the issue that, as the Slate piece notes ‘people were spending more time watching television and less time sitting on their stoops or looking out their front windows’. That can – ironically – be a societal good. The valley of the squinting windows phenomenon wasn’t a chimera by any means, and in some communities that still operates. But at the same time it is important to have people who will engage with a community on a continuing basis. It’s very noticeable to me how in some communities it is often women in their fifties and upwards who take a lead role in community and residents groups and provide the core of community activism. Often that’s not political, or at least not party political, but it is very real and it filters back into the broader context and environment in a generally positive way.