Felton Earls’ term for the single most important determinant of a neighborhood’s violent crime rate is “Collective Efficacy:” “Trust, reciprocity, and a willingness among people to look out for one another.”
“Our national ideology gets spun off in the direction of individualism,” says Earls. “But maybe the survival of our country demands that we balance that strong ethic with the admission that we’re in it together.”
It’s nice when $50+ Million of public health research returns something that’s solidly useful (example article: Science (pdf)}. “It is far and away the most important [crime] research insight in the last decade,” said Jeremy Travis, director of the National Institute of Justice from 1994 to 2000. “I think it will shape policy for the next generation.”
This same research program has finally shown the Broken Windows to be just a bunch of fuzzy thinking. Broken Windows was a very popular hypothisis that crime arises from disorder; for example the unrepaired broken window. It’s popular with authoritarians since it licenses them to demand that other people clean their desks and gives them an excuse to arrest the shabby or homeless. It confounds cause and effect.
This nice peice of research (pdf) both fails to substantiate the silly idea but also demonstrates that collective efficacy is a much more valuable predictive variable. Meanwhile the research is delightful because they collected so much data so very carefully.
(See also this:NY Time’s Article).