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The Concentration and Stability of Gun Violence at Micro Places in Boston, 1980–2008

Abstract

Boston, like many other major U.S. cities, experienced an epidemic of gun violence during the late 1980s and early 1990s that was followed by a sudden large downturn in gun violence in the mid 1990s. The gun violence drop continued until the early part of the new millennium. Recent advances in criminological research suggest that there is significant clustering of crime in micro places, or “hot spots,” that generate a disproportionate amount of criminal events in a city. In this paper, we use growth curve regression models to uncover distinctive developmental trends in gun assault incidents at street segments and intersections in Boston over a 29-year period. We find that Boston gun violence is intensely concentrated at a small number of street segments and intersections rather than spread evenly across the urban landscape between 1980 and 2008. Gun violence trends at these high-activity micro places follow two general trajectories: stable concentrations of gun assaults incidents over time and volatile concentrations of gun assault incidents over time. Micro places with volatile trajectories represent less than 3% of street segments and intersections, generate more than half of all gun violence incidents, and seem to be the primary drivers of overall gun violence trends in Boston. Our findings suggest that the urban gun violence epidemic, and sudden downturn in urban gun violence in the late 1990s, may be best understood by examining highly volatile micro-level trends at a relatively small number of places in urban environments.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Unless otherwise noted, the homicide data in this paragraph were acquired from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (accessed May 20, 2009) http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/tables/weaponstab.htm.

  2. 2.

    http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_07.html (accessed May 20, 2009).

  3. 3.

    After street crack-cocaine markets stabilized, drug-related violence decreased in Boston. Unfortunately, serious gun violence had become “decoupled” from the crack trade. Guns were used by Boston youth to settle disputes that were once dealt with by fists, sticks, and knives (Kennedy et al. 1996; Braga 2003).

  4. 4.

    An interagency problem-oriented policing intervention, which tightly focused criminal justice attention on a small number of chronically offending gang-involved youth, was associated with the significant reduction in youth homicide and non-fatal gun violence when it was operational between 1996 and 2000 (Braga et al., 2001). The implementation and impact of the Operation Ceasefire intervention has been extensively documented elsewhere (see, e.g., Kennedy et al. 1996, 2001; Braga et al. 2008) and is not the subject of this paper.

  5. 5.

    See Massachusetts General Laws, Chap. 265, Sect. 15A.

  6. 6.

    Similar results were produced using a Poisson distribution and 3-year intervals.

  7. 7.

    Fixed-effects negative binomial regression models yield essentially the same results as the findings presented here. The results of the fixed-effects models are available upon request from the authors.

  8. 8.

    When the single-event-only street units are included in our growth curve regression models, the results vary only slightly in magnitude. These results are available upon request from the authors.

  9. 9.

    As discussed below, we lagged the number of ABDW-Firearm incidents for each street unit by 1 year. To calculate this variable, the time series loses the first year of data. Therefore, our final models analyzed 28 years of data rather than 29 years of data.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Commissioner Edward F. Davis, Superintendent Paul Fitzgerald, Carl Walter, and Richard Laird for their support of this research. We would also like to thank David Weisburd, Alex Piquero, James Lynch, and the participants at the Crime and Place Working Group special session on “The Empirical Evidence on the Relevance of Place in Criminology” held at George Mason University on April 22, 2009 for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Anthony A. Braga.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 5.

Table 5 Distribution of ABDW-firearm incidents in Boston by observed and expected number of street units each year, (a) 1980–1984, (b) 1985–1989, (c) 1990–1994, (d) 1995–1999, (e) 2000–2004, and (f) 2005–2008

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Braga, A.A., Papachristos, A.V. & Hureau, D.M. The Concentration and Stability of Gun Violence at Micro Places in Boston, 1980–2008. J Quant Criminol 26, 33–53 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-009-9082-x

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Keywords

  • Guns
  • Gun violence
  • Hot spots
  • Epidemic