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Interpersonal conflict is the strongest predictor of community crime and misconduct

June 2, 2015

Criminology researchers use big data to track neighborhood decline in a special issue of Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency

Los Angeles, CA. Neighborhoods with more interpersonal conflict, such as domestic violence and landlord/tenet disputes, see more serious crime according to a new study out today in Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency (JRCD). Private conflict was a better predictor of neighborhood deterioration than public disorder, such as vandalism, suggesting the important role that individuals play in community safety.

“Private conflicts, for example, domestic violence or friendship disputes over money or girlfriends, can and do spill over into public spaces, be it on stoops or street corners, in bars or local parks.” reported study authors Daniel O’Brien and Robert J. Sampson of Northeastern University and Harvard University. 

Analyzing census reports and geographical data of 911 dispatches and 311 service requests in 121 Boston residential areas from 2011-2012, O’Brien and Sampsom found the following relationships across time:

Neighborhood rates of interpersonal conflict in 2011 were associated with increases in social disorder (noise disturbances and public intoxication), private neglect (infestation and uncivil use of private property), crime, and physical and gun violence in 2012.

Physical disorder (infestation, graffiti, improper disposal of trash) and social disorder were only slightly predictive of future violence and further disorder.

Incidents involving guns in 2011 predicted more homicides in 2012.

Homicides in 2011 were unrelated to any measures of violence, crime, and disorder in 2012.

“Private conflict and public violence are likely to increase in severity over time, leading to the more consistent use of guns,” commented O’Brien and Sampsom. “Notably, this progression has been largely invisible to previous work because its primary antecedents occur behind closed doors, out of view of many measurement techniques.”

The researchers speculated that people facing stressful conflicts with others may respond violently to issues within their community, neglect private property, and be less inclined to take a stand against neighborhood decline. Such examples of external disorder may also stress individuals in the community, intensifying conflicts within private lives.

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This study, “Public and private spheres of neighborhood disorder: Assessing pathways to violence using large-scale digital record”, is free to access online for a limited time and can be read here. It will appear in print in the July 2015 special issue of Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, dedicated to the Broken Window Theory.

Mike Maxfield, Editor, JRCD, commented, “The impact of "Broken Windows" on police practice and research cannot be overstated. Virtually every police officer, criminologist, big-city mayor, and journalist has some degree of familiarity with the concept. Increased attention to policing practices often points to the role of broken windows in crime control and police practice.”

The special issue, “Reimagining Broken Windows: From Theory to Policy”, will be published in print in July 2015 and will include the following research articles:

“Reimagining broken windows: From theory to policy” by Brandon C. Welsh, Anthony A. Braga, and Gerben J. N. Bruinsma

“Disorder and decline: The state of research” by Wesley G. Skogan

“Public and private spheres of neighborhood disorder: Assessing pathways to violence using large-scale digital records” by Daniel O’Brien and Robert J. Sampson

“Where broken windows should be fixed: Towards identification of areas at the ‘tipping point’” by Wouter Steenbeek and Christian Kreis

“Do we ‘see’ the same thing? An experimental look into the black box of disorder perception” by Sue-Ming Yang and Chih-Chao Pao

“Can policing disorder reduce crime? A systematic review and meta-analysis,” by Anthony A. Braga, Brandon C. Welsh, and Cory Schnell,

“Understanding the mechanisms underlying broken windows policing: The need for evaluation evidence” by David Weisburd, Joshua Hinkle, Anthony A. Braga, and Alese Wooditch

“Broken windows, neighborhoods, and the legitimacy of law enforcement, or why I fell in and out of love with Zimbardo” by Tracey L. Meares

“An author’s brief history of an idea” by George L. Kelling

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Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency (JRCD), peer-reviewed and published bi-monthly, offers articles, research notes, review essays and special issues to keep you up-to-date on contemporary issues and controversies within the criminal justice field. For more than fifty years, this international forum has explored the social, political, and economic contexts of criminal justice and examined victims, criminals, courts, and sanctions.

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