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Publication: Topic areas


My early interests in person place transactions including territorial functioning later led to examioning the individual and locational factors shaping reactions to crime like fear of crime. In a 1984 publication Steve Gottfredson, Sidney Brower and I examined streetblock cross-sectional variation in both property crime and fear of crime. In a 1986 publication Maggie Hale and I focused on four different models to explain just individual differences in fear of crime at one point in time. In a 1991 publication, Jeanette Covington and I sought to separate out the within neighborhood individual difference contributions to fear, from the neighborhood level ecological determinants. In a 1993 article she and I examined impacts of structural neighborhood changes over time on fear of crime at the end of that change period. And in a 2003 publication, Jennifer Robinson, Brian Lawton, Doug Perkins, and I examined assessed individual level fear changes over time, separating out ecological shifts at the streetblock level from individual level shifts. Finally, in my 2001 volume Breaking Away from Broken Windows, I again examined the contribution of ecological changes to reactions to crime, when the latter were assessed after a substantial timeframe of over a decade. This last investigation considered not only fear of crime but also other related reactions to crime such as avoidance, and indicators of local commitment such as intention to move. More on incivilities appears below.

Final mention in this area goes to a study that used what was for me novel methodology. An effort (2006) spearheaded by Kevin Wang took fear research into the alleys. He stimulated a walk down a particular alley using a standardized sequence of pictures, and participants rated their concerns at different points along the journey. The work built on Nasar's threat, prospect, and refuge model, but also incorporated the literature on perceptions of alleys.


What is community criminology? For a long answer, guaranteed to cure any insomnia you might have, read my 2015 New York University press volume of that title. The short answer is this: “community criminology theories address crime… at the community level… either as a predictor or an outcome, and impacts of community features on crime or a crime related attribute at the individual, group, or community levels” (p.3 – 4). As such, community criminology includes as subfields within it both environmental criminology and the criminology a place or crime in place literatures.


In my 2015 volume, I sought to turn scholars’ attention to four enduring challenges, each of which hampers both our ability to understand the origins and consequences of crime on communities, and our ability to craft long-term solutions. The four enduring challenges are spatial scaling, temporal scaling, establishing meaningful ecological indicators of key constructs, and selectivity bias.


Research on topics within this field include a 1988 publication with Jeanette Covington examining connections between neighborhood structural change and violence change. We also built on that work in a 1990 publication proposing ideas of ecological violence risk prediction.


In 1985 collagues Steve Gottfredson, SIdney Brower, Sally Shumaker and I published one of the first studies examining how assessed indicators of physiccal disorder at the neighborhood level, based on streetblock assesssments, linked to reactions to crime and local attachment.


Several publications in the 1990s with Douglas Perkins examined origins of, and impacts of physical and social incivilities at a time when “broken windows policing” was all the rage. These publications both tested key elements of the broken windows idea, developed methodologies for address level and streetblocks level incivilities assessments, and considered disparities when incivilities were assessed using different methodologies.


Also relevant are several publications, going back to the late 1970s, and mostly appearing in handbook chapters, but sometimes in book chapters, addressing questions of how the physical environment links to crime. I have become increasingly skeptical over my career about the possibilities of actually figuring out how all this works in a rigorous empirical manner.


Starting in the early and mid 1990s, I grew increasingly interested in what Bursik and Grasmick called the revised systemic model of crime and its links to Hawley’s model of human ecology. This led to a 1997 statement of micro ecological principles to explain variation in reactions to crime, with the micro-ecological principles proposed as counterparts to Hawley’s ecological principles. In various publications with colleagues, and sometimes with graduate student lead authors, we investigated various features related to the revised systemic model. Perhaps most directly relevant to the systemic model was a 2011 publication specifically examining the origins of perceived problems with unsupervised team groups. That indicator plays a key role in the revised systemic model.

Perhaps the most micro-level effort with which I have been involved on this topic was a qualitative observational study led by Dave Roberts examining streetlife on one complex streetblock in West Philadelphia, located just two blocks from the site of the city's worst mass murder. That work clarified how safe zones could be created in dangerous areas, and highlighted empirical intra-streetblock variation in order maintenance. It appeared in 2014.


More recent efforts in this vein include a 2015 publication with Elizabeth Groff, and David Elesh examining jurisdiction level contributions of physical environment to change; a 2015 publication with Jerry Ratcliffe and Amber Perenzin Askey considering ecological predictability of crime rates; and current publications in development on jurisdiction level metropolitan wide crime changes over the bulk of a decade.

I comment below specifically on research regarding incivilities.


How community members view police officers, and criminal justice system more broadly, is an inherently crucial topic. If Gary LaFree is correct, these and other institutions have been losing legitimacy for decades. If Tom Tyler is correct, whether members of the public perceive that they are being dealt with equitably and respectfully by agents of the criminal justice syste, has an important impact on not only how legitimate members of the public thinks laws are and their willingness to follow those laws; but also on their willingness to assist police and other agents of justice in various matters such as coming forward as witnesses. In short, the personal, situational, and broader contextual determinants of these views merit inquiry.


Which residents in which neighborhoods perceived police to be more or less responsive to reports of troublesome local team groups? A 2010 publication with Chris Kelly and Chris Salvatore sought an answer.


When considering residents in urban, suburban, and rural locations, which has a stronger impact on shaping confidence in the local police: perceptions of local incivilities, or perceived legitimacy of how police act locally? Brian Lawton and I sought an answer to this question in a 2012 publication, and simultaneously considered implications of confidence in the police for broader confidence in the criminal justice system.


In residents’ views of police, there are at least two broad dimensions, assessed effectiveness and assessed legitimacy/fairness. Of course, there are additional components as well. But if we focus on these two broad dimensions, consider different types of residents, such as Black and White, and include different types of places, such as urban versus suburban locations, do we find the same connections between these two broad dimensions for different types of people in different types of places? Brian Wyant, Brian Lockwood, and I considered this question in a 2015 publication.


Work on policing has also addressed evaluation of police operations. Works over the past few years, in collaboration with Jerry Ratcliffe and Liz Groff have examined the effectiveness of different police tactics including foot patrol in hotspots (2015) and predictive policing (2020). A recent publication (2020) on statistical pitfalls with predictive policing sought to incorporate into the discussion community perspectives, thinking about how to fold together social justice metrics along with the effectiveness metrics when developing an overall evaluation of how well predictive policing might work and what the community costs might be.


How individual residents, and groups of residents, connect to where they live an the places they use has been an enduring area of interest since before I began my career. As an undergraduate, research by Irv Altman, Dalmas Taylor, and colleagues on crowding, personal space, and privacy regulation among groups in isolation – for example, astronauts on the way to Mars – sparked my interest. Here was an empirically researchable topic with substantial practical applications. In graduate school, health sociologist Lois Verbrugge transformed a rough idea into a respectable research proposal, and with small grant funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and very able graduate students in a survey research practicum in the Department of Social Relations at Hopkins, we fielded a household survey, the results appearing in a 1980 publication.


Considerable encouragement from Roger Stough in the Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research led to a small study (1978) that was my first foray into territorial functioning. At that time serious empirical research on the topic competed with oversimplified or over dramatized takes on the field. I give a shot at sorting it out and making the area respectable in a 1988 volume Human Territorial Functioning.


Another thread in these person place bonds is attachment to place. Colleague Sally Schumaker and I sought to develop an organized model of its determinants (1983). Connections with incivilities through my and colleagues attention as well (1985).


In the early 2000’s, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was in the process of standardizing jury protocols across the Commonwealth. I was asked to gather some data about all this. Lillian Dote and I surveyed jury administrators throughout the state. Later, Ms. Dote and I, assisted by Jerry Ratcliffe and Brian Lawton, gathered data from four counties in Pennsylvania, and empirically assessed jury yield for the middle stages of jury selection, the stage between getting the summons and showing up at the courthouse. We published (2007) results based on the Philadelphia data.


In the early 2000's, the late Rob Mason and I got interested in the perceived severity of environmental crimes, and the punishments delivered. Developing a theoretical frame based on the work of British qualitative researcher Keith Hawkins, we modeled what punishments were seen as deserving for different types of offenders for different types of environmental crimes (2002).


In the early 2000's, federal and state officials expressed considerable concern about the backlog in DNA processing, state legislatures were expanding the range of convictions and even arrests mandating DNA data collection, and we were asked to take a look at how this was playing out in Pennsylvania. The short answer was: not well. We also argued in a 2007 publication that the state/federal arrangement was such that the backlog would never be remedied. We suggested rethinking some things.


From the time it first appeared in 1982, federal, state, and local officials expressed excitement about, interest in, and hopes for the broken windows thesis as a way to restore order in urban communities, and as a way to help police focus on what they could do to make urban life safer. I can remember my grant monitor at the agency that was the forerunner of the National Institute of Justice calling me up on the phone (what we now call the landline) and telling me to run don't walk to the nearest outlet and acquire the relevant issue of The Atlantic Monthly. I still have it in my office. Researchers, starting with the Northwestern University "Reactions to Crime" project (1975-1980) had been collecting lists of perceived neighborhood problems and crimes in their surveys. We too had collected these in our surveys in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We just called them perceived problems. Suddenly, their significance and import expanded dramatically with Wilson & Kelling's 1982 article.


In the early 1990s, Sidney Brower, Steve Pardue and I were able to examine the impacts of incivilities, both assessed and perceived, over time. Relevant outcomes included structural decline, crime, and reactions to crime. I wrote up the results in a 2001 volume, Breaking Away from Broken Windows. The short take away? Depending on the outcome, structural factors like relative socioeconomic status and racial composition prove more important for explaining these changes than either assessed or perceived incivilities at the outset of the change timeframe. Incivilities were never irrelevant, but the size of their contribution depended markedly on the way that the incivilities had been assessed. As I said at that time, "present results generate some support [for the incivilities thesis]. But that support is needed as consistent across incivilities indicators or as applicable across outcomes as the theoretical statements suggest… For each class of outcomes, results provide some support for the longitudinal ecological version of the incivilities thesis" (367). Specifically concerning crime change and neighborhood decline, "initial status and initial racial composition were as influential or more influential [than incivilities] for later changes in crime and structural decline" (373).


Steve Gottfredson and I conducted two studies to see whether the neighborhood environments to which offenders were released affected their recidivism. In one study (1985) it did. In another study (1988) it did not.


Public health researchers Jon Ellen, Jacky Jennings & Susan Sherman, then all at Johns Hopkins, have invited me to collaborate over number of years on various projects assessing different aspects of health including sexually transmitted infections, high risk sexual behaviors, and risk environments of exotic dance clubs.

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