Examining the incivilities thesis : a spatial and temporal analysis of the relationship between public order crime and more serious crime
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While public order crimes or incivilities have historically been considered nuisance crimes and have not been a high priority of law enforcement or the courts, recent research on incivilities and crime is leading to a re-evaluation of the importance of public order crimes and public order offenders. In particular, proponents of the “incivilities thesis” argue that urban communities that experience high levels of public order crime not only suffer loss of a sense of community, heightened fear, and loss of a sense of safety, but may also experience heightened levels of more serious criminal offending. Despite the growing body of empirical research on the incivilities thesis, very little is known about the spatial and temporal scale over which the processes that are thought to link incivilities with serious crime operate. However, such information is critical, both to the further development of theories linking incivilities and crime and to the development of criminal justice policies that address the problem of incivilities. This study addresses this gap in the literature using a database created from police records in Austin, Texas. The scope of the database (1994-2000) allows for a detailed examination of the spatial and temporal relationships between public order crime, and three types of serious crime. The empirical evidence presented in this study reveals that the processes linking incivilities with crime occur at a fairly large spatial scale (i.e. across urban neighborhoods), and over a relatively short time period (i.e. one year). In light of this new evidence, it is argued that researchers and policy makers should consider the impact of incivilities on serious crime in conjunction with other known neighborhood level determinants of crime. In addition, the discovery that incivilities are related to more serious crime over time provides the strongest evidence to date regarding causal associations. It also suggest that by monitoring changes in incivilities across different areas of the city, policy makers can anticipate short-term changes in more serious crime and respond proactively with targeted interventions.