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The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

Abstract

Objectives

This study applies the growing emphasis on micro-places to the analysis of addresses, assessing the presence and persistence of “problem properties” with elevated levels of crime and disorder. It evaluates what insights this additional detail offers beyond the analysis of neighborhoods and street segments.

Methods

We used over 2,000,000 geocoded emergency and non-emergency requests received by the City of Boston’s 911 and 311 systems from 2011–2013 to calculate six indices of violent crime, physical disorder, and social disorder for all addresses (n = 123,265). We linked addresses to their street segment (n = 13,767) and census tract (n = 178), creating a three-level hierarchy that enabled a series of multilevel Poisson hierarchical models.

Results

Less than 1% of addresses generated 25% of reports of crime and disorder. Across indices, 95–99% of variance was at the address level, though there was significant clustering at the street segment and neighborhood levels. Models with lag predictors found that levels of crime and disorder persisted across years for all outcomes at all three geographic levels, with stronger effects at higher geographic levels. Distinctively, ~15% of addresses generated crime or disorder in one year and not in the other.

Conclusions

The analysis suggests new opportunities for both the criminology of place and the management of public safety in considering addresses in conjunction with higher-order geographies. We explore directions for empirical work including the further experimentation with and evaluation of law enforcement policies targeting problem properties.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Duplicates removed using a case enquiry ID that is maintained by the 311 system administrators.

  2. To maintain perfect three-level nesting, addresses on a street segment that crossed over two or more tracts were attributed to the tract within which the centroid of that street segment lies and not necessarily the tract containing the address.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank our collaborative partners at the Department of Innovation and Technology and the Problem Properties Task Force at the City of Boston, as well as our colleagues Cynthia Rudin and Fulton Wang for valuable input during the conceptualization of the analysis.

Funding

This work received support from the National Science Foundation (Grant # SMA 1338446), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Grant # 13-105766-000), and support from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University for the Boston Area Research Initiative.

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Correspondence to Daniel Tumminelli O’Brien.

Appendix

Appendix

See Appendix Tables 6, 7 and 8.

Table 6 Distribution of reports of crime and disorder across addresses in 2012
Table 7 Distribution of reports of crime and disorder across addresses in 2013
Table 8 Parameter estimates from three-level models using address-, street-, and tract-level residuals from 2012 models predicting disorder and crime to predict the corresponding measure in 2013

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O’Brien, D.T., Winship, C. The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods. J Quant Criminol 33, 649–674 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-016-9330-9

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Keywords

  • Law of concentration of crime
  • Physical disorder
  • Social disorder
  • Violent crime
  • Computational social science