The impact of population and economic decline: examining socio-demographic correlates of homicide in Detroit

Abstract

This study examined the relationship between neighborhood social ecology and homicide in Detroit, Michigan. Additionally, the research examined the influence of recent population decline in Detroit on homicides through a focus on localized population change at the census tract level. The study findings reveal that the traditional social ecological predictors of crime continue to operate in similar ways to previous studies. However, when the population change variable is introduced to the model, the traditional social ecological predictors are no longer significant. This indicates that population change might be a driving feature of the high homicide rate in Detroit. Implications for research, theory, and practice are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although many would argue that the selection of an extreme case study, such as Detroit, limits generalizability of findings and, therefore, should be avoided, the use of extreme outliers is often the focus of sociological research. This unique case can increase understanding of the dynamics that lead to such extreme violence in a city. This could have important implications for other cities facing economic and population decline as this information could inform practices to avoid similar challenges in the city. While a prosperous site with low crime might be equally interesting, and a site with moderate crime that is an average city might allow for greater generalizability, examining those contexts are outside of the scope and purpose of the current paper.

  2. 2.

    This study involves a replication and validation study in many respects. This is an attempt to examine previously used methods and structural indicators of social disorganization in a different context—a city facing population and economic decline. As such, measures and methods from previous studies are used to allow the researcher to compare findings with those in the contemporary social disorganization and social ecology literature.

  3. 3.

    Data were cleaned to remove duplicate cases and ensure that addresses were able to be geocoded. Police data are notoriously problematic when received in raw form.

  4. 4.

    Here, the use of validated measures indicates that the current study uses measures that have been used and validated in multiple studies previously (as cited in the text). The use of previously validated measures in research is a common practice in criminology and criminal justice research.

  5. 5.

    A detailed discussion of the analyses of the construction of the indices is beyond the scope of the current paper. Information on factor loadings and index construction is available from the author upon request. It should be noted that these indices are based on measures used in prior research and are used to allow comparability with this body of research.

  6. 6.

    Determining appropriate cutoffs for strength of Cronbach’s alpha in social research is an area warranting further research and consideration. Unfortunately, there is not a clear standard in the field. A component of this depends on the research data (including if it is a survey-based scale or an index based on socio-demographic data) and the sample size included in the study. Some argue that a cutoff of 0.7 or better is appropriate, while others indicate that cutoff is 0.6 or 0.8. A lot of this depends on the index being examined, the types of variables included, and the sample size examined and, therefore, is largely subject to interpretation. See Tavakol and Dennick (2011), Kline (2000), or DeVellis (2012) for further discussion of these challenges.

  7. 7.

    Although some researchers (typically outside of the social disorganization and macro-criminology perspectives) would argue that the findings with respect to the spatial lag indicate that census tracts are inappropriate, prior research has demonstrated that this is an important mechanism for controlling for the spatial autocorrelation that exists in any city (see, e.g., Brown 1982; Roncek and Maier 1991; Mencken and Barnett 1999; Morenoff et al. 2001; Baller et al. 2001). At this time, concerns with the census tract as an approximation for a neighborhood unit, while valid in many respects, have not contributed to development of a more meaningful approach to studying socio-demographic characteristics of neighborhoods given data limitations.

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Correspondence to Meghan E. Hollis.

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Hollis, M.E. The impact of population and economic decline: examining socio-demographic correlates of homicide in Detroit. Crime Prev Community Saf 20, 84–98 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41300-017-0037-0

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Keywords

  • Social ecology
  • Homicide
  • Population change
  • Social disorganization