Urban building demolitions, firearm violence and drug crime


Although multiple interventions to remediate physical blight have been found to reduce urban firearm violence, there is limited evidence for demolishing vacant buildings as a violence reduction strategy. Starting in 2014, Detroit, MI launched a large-scale program that demolished over 10,000 buildings in its first 3 years. We analyzed the pre-post effects of this program on fatal and nonfatal firearm assaults and illegal drug violations at the U.S. Census block group level, using propensity score matching and negative binomial regression. Receiving over 5 demolitions was associated with a 11% reduction in firearm assaults, relative to comparable control locations, 95% CI [7%, 15%], p = 0.01. The program was associated with larger reductions in firearm assaults for the locations receiving moderate numbers of demolitions (between 6 and 12) than for locations receiving high numbers of demolitions (13 and over). No effects were observed for illegal drug violations and no evidence of spatial crime displacement was detected. These findings suggest that vacant building demolitions may affect gun violence.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    We used a negative binomial model to model outcome Yit, the number of crimes at unit i at time t, as a function of the unit fixed effect ai, the time fixed effect bt, and a constant treatment effect δ. Letting Dit refer to i’s treatment status at time t we have (including the log link for the negative binomial):

    $$\log E\left[ { Y_{it } } \right] = a_{i} + b_{t} + \delta D_{it} + \varepsilon_{it}$$

    We used a negative binomial model to allow for overdispersion of the Y due to unobserved heterogeneity. The δ term is the average effect of treatment on the treated.


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The authors thank Erica Raleigh (Data Driven Detroit) and Diana Flora (Detroit Police Department) for helpful consultations regarding the property survey and police department datasets used in this analysis.


This work has been supported by the Firearm-safety Among Children and Teens (FACTS) Consortium (NICHD 1R24HD087149-01A1). The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the funding agency. No honoraria, grants or other form of payment were received for producing this manuscript.

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JJ conceived the project, conducted the analyses and drafted the manuscript. JJ and LM designed the model. CB, MZ and DH contributed to the interpretation of the results. All authors provided critical feedback and helped shape the research, analysis and manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Jay.

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Jonathan Jay, Luke W. Miratrix, Charles C. Branas, Marc A. Zimmerman, David Hemenway declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health institutional review board waived review of this study as non-human subjects research.

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Jay, J., Miratrix, L.W., Branas, C.C. et al. Urban building demolitions, firearm violence and drug crime. J Behav Med 42, 626–634 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-019-00031-6

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  • Firearm
  • Violence
  • Drugs
  • Demolitions
  • Blight remediation