Is Crime a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Lately, much of my free time has been spent contributing to the collaborative analysis of St. Paul’s burglaries over the last fifteen months, both churches and commercial buildings. We’re making some good progress, and have identified a lot of interesting trends and patterns, though the work is far from over.

One thing that’s immediately obvious when you start looking at the burglary data is that a lot of the city’s burglaries happen on the west side of town, most of then clustered right around the Midway area and the western end of Frogtown, along University Avenue. This actually comes as no real surprise – everyone kind of knows that that part of the city is “bad”. If you want to score drugs, fake ID, below-retail cigarettes, or skanky disease-ridden drug-addicted prostitutes, Frogtown/University Ave/Midway are the places to be. Why this is isn’t necessarily clear; oh, it’s easy to parrot the usual excuses, about how it’s a poor part of town that hasn’t been the recipient of nearly the amount of urban renewal and investment that other parts of the city have, boo hoo… but what if that’s not the case?

Is – how do I put this? – is being a “bad part of town” a self-fulfilling prophecy?

What I’m saying is, there’s no doubt it’s a series of poor neighborhoods, and the numbers don’t lie – it’s a high-crime area. Now, sociologists and others love to make the obvious inference there – where you get poor people, you get crime… like it’s, you know, their fault, or something. But what if that’s not the case?

Is it possible that Midway and Frogtown are high-crime areas because, you know, “everybody” says they’re high-crime areas? Do criminals gravitate towards those kinds of areas, not as places to call home but as perceived target-rich (or low-risk) environments? It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg question, I know, and I don’t really want it to be about income levels; the question is not “do poor neighborhoods beget crime?”, but “do high-crime areas attract crime?”.

More abstractly, “where crime is concerned, reality influences perception (i.e. people notice when there is, in fact, a lot of crime); does perception (i.e. people thinking there’s a lot of crime) also influence reality?” Is, like I asked earlier, being a “bad part of town” a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Published in: Geekiness, General, History, Security | on March 27th, 2009| Comments Off on Is Crime a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

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