CRIME IN RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBOURHOODS
By: ALLWRITE SOLUTIONS
Table of Contents
Crime is the subtraction of opportunity and the inability of ingenuity in an era of security. Incidences of crime and affiliations to crime are highly prevalent to the urban areas which harbor most residential neighbourhoods. Such areas are targets to crime-related activities because they are occupied by the relatively affluent persons in the community. Today, most residential areas in the cities and towns all over the world are built and organized in form of gated communities to bring a sense of security.
A sense of safety is an increasingly important factor when choosing residential spaces. The idea of safety is deeply rooted in the human mind such that it is practically impossible for a person with means to stay within an area that is considered unsafe. That not-withstanding, safety is an ideal that varies in all forms and areas of life. In this paper we shall be discussing crime; which in turn is a major setback to safety/security in residential neighbourhoods.
Crime, safety, security, residential, neighbourhood.
Crime is a social problem commanding national attention and is a major problem in metropolitan cities in the world today. Security is one of the pillars required for long term investment and sustenance of existing ventures. There is need for a concerted effort from the Government and its citizens to make concerted efforts in order to deal with any threats to National Security. The cost of crime related activities to victims, their families and the general public in monetary terms is of great magnitude. Studies such as the European Social Survey, the British Crime Survey and the International Crime Victim Survey all substantiate the view that, fear of crime is common and a problem in its own right, separate from crime itself. The fear of crime is purported to be higher than actual crime rates and results in individuals implementing avoidance strategies such as staying in at night or avoiding certain areas. In reducing fear of crime, physical elements such as gated elements become a major factor. Hence, the gated community residential concept has caught the attention of developers and attracted popular demand due to the belief that the gated element is able to reduce acts of crime in residential areas, thus reducing fear of crime. However, in Malaysia, typical residential developments comprise elements of gating at every individual lot while the concept of non-gated individual residential units is still seldom applied. In Malaysia, the development of gated community residential concept entails two elements of gate namely at every individual lot and also around the perimeter of the residential area which is coupled with a security guard post at the entrance to the residential area. Thus, the practice of gated community residential areas in Malaysia is also known as a gated and guarded community which is targeted at the higher income earners. Crime and fear has been considered as a main problem threatening quality of life, because it limits people’s activities and worsens health (Nasar & Jones, 1997; Nasar & Fisher 1993; Newman, 1972). General knowledge and empirical evidence shows that reductions in crime could be achieved through environmental design. As crime tends to concentrate in some environments and some environments evoke higher levels of fear than others, a number of studies have been devoted to the distribution of crime over space, and the social, economic and physical environmental variables leading up to crime; as well as criminal tendencies. For environmental psychologists, physical environmental variables are more important as they can be controlled through the design and planning processes. Although researchers may investigate physical environmental features at two levels i.e. macro and micro levels, environmental psychologists tend to focus on the micro level characteristics (Nasar & Fisher, 1993) as they can be controlled to the means of urban design.
In theory, physical incivilities, places that afford concealment, limited prospect, and blocked escape contribute to crime (Nasar, Fisher & Grannis, 1993). Physical incivilities such as litter and low quality buildings in an environment convey certain perceptions about the social and physical conditions of an area and contribute to fear but do not necessarily lead to crime. According to Appleton’s prospect-refuge theory, people prefer places offering large fields of view (prospect) and protection from threat (refuge). However, from the perspective of potential victims and offenders preferences for prospect and refuge may differ. For example, open vistas (prospect) may represent a positive affordance for a potential victim or a negative one for a potential offender (Nasar & Fisher, 1993; Nasar & Jones, 1997). Similarly, potential victims may avoid places of concealment (refuge) since such places may convey messages about the presence of potential offenders who may surprise them. Fear is not only determined by the extent to which an environment provides a wide vista, places for concealment, but also by the extent to which it provides an opportunity to escape (closure). Both potential victims and offenders may favor places that afford easy escape. Research showed that these three variables (prospect, refuge and closure) may be dependent of each other. For example, areas of blocked prospect tend to have concealment. Similarly, a place that affords concealment may limit the opportunity to escape. Recent research also shows that trees, shrubs and walls are the most important physical features that determine whether an environment affords concealment, limited prospect or blocked escape.
Crime accompanies social life in all aspects. It occurs in every society and in every stage of its development, regardless of its structure, system or historical period. Undoubtedly, crime is a consequence of many social and economic problems which are constantly changing. Regardless of whether we like it or not, crime is a constant component of our life. The crime level is influenced by lots of factors which nature is heterogeneous. Among them, we may distinguish the socio-economic situation of the offender. Statistics confirm the assumption that there is a strong connection between social and economic conditions and the level of crime. Maria Szczepaniec in her article that focuses on law and economics claims that ”the crime rate is essentially explained by studying how the changes in costs and profits from criminal activity influence the decision to commit a crime. According to the economic theory of crime an individual will be willing to commit an offense if the expected profit resulting from the criminal behavior will be higher than the profit resulting from the engagement in its legal alternative”.
Crime and changes in the structure of crime are both affected by such elements as: the degree of economic development, socio-political system that functions in a given country, the progress of industrialization and urbanization, transformations in social structure which are age-related to members of the society and finally, migrations. Transformations may be carried out in a revolutionary way or throughout a longer period of time, they can also occur suddenly as a result of some turbulent changeovers and rapid changes which happen in a given community. The transformations taking place in crime are naturally connected with common processes of social change, which applies to all societies. By analyzing the influence of socio-economic factors on crime in small communities, we take a closer look at the system of changes taking place. The main problem pointed to during discussions about the dependencies between the economic position and crime is an ambiguous result of analysis of the presented problem. There are data indicating that the weaker economic performance determine the decrease in crime, while other deny such a relationship. However, there are studies which clearly confirm the intensification of crime as a symptom of a decline in the level of material situation. Probably the economic factors constitute an element which determines the development of crime, but not crime in its general understanding, but certain types of crime. Therefore, one should question whether in fact the economic situation shapes the level of crime rate. While being under constant modifications and transformations, society will never stay unchanged. Changes in the number, gender, age structure, migration i.e. demographic changes, also have their mutual influence related to the economy, system of power, education, health protection, religion, and crime.
Poor economic situation may translate into crime by an increase in unemployment. It should be noted that unemployment, naturally connected with the economy may have a different dimension. Because of the social and demographic factors, such as gender, age or education level of people affected by the unemployment, there may be various relationships and impact on criminal activities. An analysis of police statistics shows that the highest intensity of crime occurs among unemployed people who are under thirty years of age. If an individual is affected by long-term unemployment, he or she starts to be affected by the consequences of such a situation, namely a sense of exclusion, injustice, and finally the lack of hope of finding a legitimate source of income. The analysis shows that unemployment brings about crime against property rather than violence. It should however, be noted that the increase in unemployment in various ways may affect particular social groups by increasing or decreasing their criminal activity.
There are four specific relationships between unemployment and crime:
- Some offenders combine their legal professional work with criminal activity. Legal business is treated as a camouflage for illegal operation. In this case, the development of unemployment may reduce the “gray zone” business, as the legal work, therefore giving a sense of security for those conducting criminal activities.
- There is a number of crimes, possible to be committed only during conducting activities while being legally employed, for example: “handing over bribes to officials”, “employee theft”. In those situations the growth of unemployment will inhibit the number of crimes of the above mentioned type, rather than increase them.
- Young people, in particular distinguish between two options: being legally employed, or being involved in a criminal activity. If the lack of work prevails, the willingness to take an income from illegal sources may be decisive. Unemployment, in this perspective may cause an increase in crime.
- There are people for whom unemployment is strictly related to their living style. This group of people treat legal work as an abnormal situation – those people are not part of the labor market. For them, the lack of employment is part of their cultural identity, and criminal activity is, in their environment, a socially accepted source of income. In this case, an increase in unemployment will have no influence on the formation of criminal behavior.
Further analysis of inter-relations of factors related to the discussed problem may incline to believe that in a period of an economic recession, a higher level of crime against property and lower against the person is being observed, whereas, during a period of prosperity (an economic boom) the situation is other way round: higher level of crime against the person and lower against property is being distinguished. Apart from unemployment other economic factors such as: poverty, the level, dynamics and diversity of earnings and the pace of economic development influence the crime rate.
Poverty has long been the factor which has been strongly associated with criminal activity. As indicated by Alain Peyrefitte, “crime is the child of poverty.” Research indicates that there is a relationship between poverty and crime. For a part of our society the relationships between poverty and crime seem obvious, and in fact such relationships exist. However, it is worth to state that poverty is not a key determinant which really inclines people to commit an offense. Nonetheless people still have fear for the poor as a group. It is believed that poor people are dangerous and troublesome. The consequence of such a belief, is that care and assistance for this group of people focuses more on the control of this population, rather than on providing them with the invaluable indispensable support that they require. The increase in the gap between levels of wealth causes an increase in inequality between people. The bigger differences between the wealth level of social groups, the bigger possibility of social uneasiness and discontent. Inequality does not result in a growth in crime rate among the wealthy, but has a higher impact on criminal behavior for those of lower social stratus. The analysis of dependencies between social groups shows that if only a small percentage of people received very high income, and the majority of the population much lower, the vulnerability of the majority of those who earn less to commit a crime would be bigger.
Religion as a system of common beliefs and rituals may cause conflicts, integrate society, or initiate social changes or suppress them. In a varying degree it may also affect the functioning of society and its behaviour. Published information and statistics concerning religious practice and the crime rates point to certain regularities, namely, the fact that the crime rate is the lowest, where the level of religious practice (e.g. attending church) is the highest. Therefore, the connection between crime rate and religious beliefs exist, although there are people who claim that religion has no impact on human behavior. To prove this assumption, there are quoted statistics concerning the number of imprisoned and their attitude to faith. Statistics point to the fact that the percentage of atheists who are imprisoned is lower than atheists who are present in the society.
While trying to explain the influence of socio-economic changes on crime, a number of changes in the economic system should be taken into account, such as the emergence of economic crises, periods of economic prosperity, the processes of industrialization and urbanization. If the economic components affect almost all types of social activity, there must be a link between them and the crime. The conditions which economic tension may create, often stressful situations, may facilitate criminal activity. Initially, the analysis of the relationship between social and economic transformation and changes in the crime indicated that there is a causal connection, but now this assumption is not so obvious.
A good economic situation, may both influence either an increase or a decrease in the number of criminal offences. First of all, it may increase the possibility to commit a crime as the easiness and availability of products make them an easy target for a thief or even a person who has a desire to steal an item without really the need to have it. Abundance of goods may imply that products have become an object of a crime and therefore be subject to actions, such as vandalism. Furthermore, if people have too much leisure, they tend to change their lifestyle – and this change is associated with taking part in or participate in events and interaction with other people. This causes a greater opportunity for people to be involved in prohibited actions and crimes.
A period of prosperity may, on the other hand decrease the possibility to commit a crime as people stick to generally accepted social standards and the desire to commit an illegal actions e.g. theft and swindling is reduced. People feel more socially secure and safe. The better social and economic status people have, the lower need to be involved in something prohibited by law. In case of a well-paid job, also motivational elements appear as well as the fear of the consequences of a wrongful act.
In literature of this field, there is no evidence of a connection between the level of crime and the level of industrialization. However, there is a strong connection between the level of crime and spatial mobility of the population, as well as the size of migration. The internationalization of crime causes intensification of organized crime. Possibilities to commit a crime also change: smuggling, tax frauds and economic crimes, production of drugs and weapons, monetary fraud, prostitution, money laundering, customs offenses and acts of corruption.
The changing structure of crime, its forms and ways of committing it indicate an actual change in social structure and transformations of the social life as well as missing norms and values of societies which in a given historical period may have been observed.
Crime prevention involves the strategies that may be implemented by communities and the government to target the various social and environmental factors that increase the risk of crime. There are a variety of approaches to crime prevention (Peter-Jan Engelen and Marc van Essen. The Social Science Journal, 2015). Sutton, et al (2013) dwell on the definition of Van Dijk and de Waard (1991, p. 483) considers crime prevention as “the total of all private initiatives and state policies, other than the enforcement of criminal law, aimed at the reduction of damage caused by acts defined as criminal by the state,” by stressing that crime prevention should embrace both social prevention and environmental prevention and that they should so be embraced as an alternative to policing, criminal justice, law and order. Various models have been developed to categorize the broad range of activity that falls within the definition of crime prevention. Understanding the different approaches to crime prevention is important, as there are implications for determining the appropriate institutional and management arrangements necessary to support specific crime prevention interventions (Shebani Rao Nancy G. La Vigne. Crime and JusticeRSS, 2013). An understanding of the different approaches available and their underlying rationale is crucial to developing effective crime prevention programs and projects. The environmental approach, which includes situational crime prevention techniques and broader urban planning initiatives, aims to modify the physical environment to reduce the opportunities for crime to occur. The social approach focuses on the underlying social and economic causes of crime in the community like lack of social cohesion, limited access to housing, unemployment, lack of education and poor health services.
Crime rate can be significantly reduced through gated communities and property fencing (Addington and Rennison, 2015; Plaut, 2011; Low, 2001). This involves making valuable property harder for offenders to access. Upgrading of the locks on doors, windows, sheds and outbuildings may be some of the things that could be done in order to alleviate crime and criminal activities. Fitting sash jammers to vulnerable doors and windows may also make it harder for persons intending to steal from residences. Most residential areas, being located in the urban areas of the country, are normally inhabited by the middle to upper class citizens who are by far more financially stable as compared to the majority of the people living in the surrounding areas. Based on such assumptions, they are much prone to theft or robbery by the “less fortunate.” By ensuring that valuable items are locked away preventing easy access, the residents of such areas will help prevent crime.
Ensuring that a potential target is out of view by not leaving items on view through your windows – i.e. laptops, phones, keys, bags. Parking vehicles in the garage and not leaving valuables that may be present on display. It is said that everything we do all starts in the mind. In the event that a desperate person finds a potential target in his/her line of sight, they will definitely think about the possibilities of them acquiring them by whatever means possible. This in turns leads to theft, which is a crime as per the laws and rules of any state in the world.
Removing items that may help commit an offence. This may be in terms of, not leaving tools and ladders in the garden and clearing up any rubble/bricks which may be used as areas of access or escape by any person intending to commit a crime. Keeping wheelie bins out of reach, as they may be a climbing aid or help transport items. By eliminating the triggers to temptation, we thereby prevent the action of crime itself.
Reducing the profit the criminal can make from the offence i.e. security marking your property. Property that is marked in such a way that others will not want to buy from the thief will help prevent theft since the item will lose its viability to sell and therefore of minimal or no use to the thief. In other cases, not buying property you believe or suspect to be stolen is another way to minimize criminal activities in the residential areas. Once the market for such goods is removed, there will be no way to dispose the stolen items and therefore the criminals will be discouraged from stealing and selling to people within that area, in turn reducing the crime rates.
This involves looking into measures that will control access to a location, a person or object. Such may involve: locking your doors and windows to both the house and vehicle if any, ensuring that fences and any other boundary treatments are in a good state of repair, putting a security system in place at a commercial site i.e. entry barriers, security guards, ID cards, etc. Fences and gates can sometimes create a wrong impression of security for the occupants living within them to have feeling that there is no need to keep an eye on suspicious people and activities, thereby making them and their neighbourhoods easy targets for burglars and other criminals. Agbola (1997) in his study interpreted construction of high fences and gates around the building and/or neighbourhoods as an ‘architecture of fear’ which paradoxically invites offenders rather than deter them. This is because, when high fences are built, it inferably means valuable things are kept within which may by a large extent attract a prospective offender. However, while gated communities are prohibited from claiming that the secured gates and fences round their properties offer a higher level of security and safety, the implication certainly exists. These measures, once put into place, will limit the accessibility of target areas. In most residential neighbourhoods today, the gated community system has been employed. The residents are able to inhibit random movements within the estates at odd hours and through this, decrease the cases of crimes, such as theft, to a great extent.
Improving surveillance around homes, businesses or public places to deter criminals which may involve, adding CCTV to a commercial site or public place. CCTV cameras have recently become an appreciated means of surveillance. They are relatively cheap to install and maintain, plus, they have maximum efficiency while in use. People in the urban living setting prevalently use CCTVs in their houses and within their compounds in order to record all and any incidences that may occur within their homes in their absence. Nannies and house helps are now monitored closely and parents can comfortably go to work with the expectation that their workers will be afraid of doing anything that they would not approve of, because they will definitely be found out. Establishing a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme in your street and trimming high hedges / fences at the front of your home that allows an offender to work unseen may also reduce cases of crime.
Ensuring your property and wider community looks cared for. A clean and decent looking environment tends to scare off petty thieves. Making sure that graffiti and domestic/commercial waste is cleared up is also another means of creating a crime-free environment. Reporting issues with fly-tipping or broken street lights to the relevant authority so as to remove dark alleys and areas that may provide prospect, refuge and closure to perpetrators of crime. Working with the police and local authority to close a footpath (closure) that may be used by offenders.
Changing our habits by setting rules and positioning signage in appropriate locations which will keep track of everyone coming in and leaving the community, thereby ensuring security. Introducing a rule that the last person entering / leaving should lock the door and remove the keys may be applicable to apartments with several tenants. Enforcement of such a rule will prevent random entry and exit from the building and help in improving security. Informing visitors to commercial sites that they must report to reception on arrival and users that a particular site is closed between certain times and should not be accessed can go a long way in the fight against crime in urban residential neighbourhoods.
Increasing the likelihood that an offender will be caught to prevent crime occurring e.g. making use of efficient and timely dusk to dawn security lighting. Installation of photocell lighting systems and motion sensor lights are some of the ways by which prospect and refuge may be reduced, therefore inhibiting crime. Using good quality alarm systems, especially on commercial sites and public places and upgrading security to delay an offender, meaning they have to spend more time to gain access are other ways in which we can capture and prosecute criminals in such areas.
Deterring an offender or deflecting their intention; using timer switches to make our homes look occupied if vacant after the hours of darkness. Such methods of deflection may prove to be a necessary means to employ in cases where the residents of a home may decide to go away for a long period of time; probably even travel out of the country. Offenders may notice that a certain house has been deserted for quite a while where such means are not employed and decide to try their luck by breaking in.
The discussed and analyzed socio – economic factors incline to believe that social and economic sphere of human life is interrelated and interdependent. There are certain correlations with the crime level and social behavior as well as with economy and human vulnerability to commit an offense. However, careful examination in this respect is still needed. Causal dependencies which occur in societies on every stage of their development are difficult to explain. Yet the research, analysis of recovery plans and criminal statistics as well as literature allowed to form a conclusion that people should not only focus on individuals in crime prevention programs but on such forms of activity that would be targeted to whole societies. Preventive measures should aim at reducing both economic and social inequalities, e.g. balance the level of income or promote social cohesion. Although various crime preventive strategies and programs continue to be developed, they may only reduce crime rate on a small scale, basically they will not have a clear influence on the increase or decrease in a criminal activity in a particular country or in a global dimension as too many social and economic factors should be taken into account. Planned recovery activities should be focused on finding the causes that force people to commit crimes in a local or regional dimension and finding ways to improve a given situation or cause it bring other than criminal effects. Societies should learn from other societies and nations from other nations. Authorities should cooperate to find best way to weaken the desire or necessity of an individual to be involved in a criminal activity. Crime Prevention through Social Development which is premised on the belief that crime can be drastically reduced if the fundamental social root causes of crime like poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, unemployment, family disunity, delinquencies etc., are tenaciously tackled. Crime prevention through environmental design seeks to block the offender’s opportunity to commit a crime through environmental design and behaviour. On the other hand, crime prevention through social development aims at preventing property crime by finding a solution to all the social risk factors. These include poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, corruption, family accidents and bad peer group, etc. that tempt one to commit a crime. We should all pull our efforts as well as resources in implementing all the workable methods to curb crime in residential neighbourhoods which most often fall victim to such acts.
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