CAUSAL OR MERELY CO-EXISTING: A LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER AT PLACES

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2007-08-02

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This research examines the relationship between disorder and violence across geography, specifically whether disorder and violence are causally related. This issue has generated much debate in the field of criminology. The broken windows thesis argues that untended disorder will lead to crime while social disorganization theory suggests that these two phenomena are merely spuriously related. To examine the longitudinal relationship between disorder and violence, this dissertation used data from the city of Seattle, Washington and analyzed them with dynamic statistical tools. Group-based trajectory analysis was used to identify different patterns of disorder and violence. The findings reveal a moderate level of spatial association between disorder and violence. Moreover, the results show that lack of disorder may be a protective factor for places in preventing future crime. This particular finding provides a new insight for crime prevention strategy.

I further use Granger causality tests to examine the causal association between disorder and violence within selected violence and disorder hotspots.  Findings from the Granger causality tests indicate that disorder does not lead to violence.  As such the results suggest that public policy targeting disorder may not lead to crime reduction benefits.  This particular finding challenges the notion of broken windows policing.  Although broken windows policing might increase the chance to apprehend criminals due to the spatial clustering of social disorder and violence, the findings suggest that reducing levels of disorder will be unlikely to have strong impacts on crime rates.  Additionally, potential collateral effects of police crackdowns on disorder need to be considered.  Lastly, social disorder and physical disorder seem to relate to violence differently.  Specifically, social disorder corresponds with violence more strongly than physical disorder.  This issue has theoretical implications and should be explored further in future research.

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