Neighborhoods And Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study Of Collective Efficacy

August 14, 1997

Report Fact Sheet

What did the study find?

The study found that the quality of relationships between neighbors is an important factor in producing the safety and security of a neighborhood. The homicide rate in neighborhoods with a high degree of collective efficacy, where people know each other, have established close ties, and believe that neighbors will intervene to stop acts of crime and delinquency were 40 percent lower than in similar neighborhoods where there was a lower degree of collective efficacy.

What is collective efficacy?

Collective efficacy is the willingness and readiness of a neighborhood to act together to solve a problem. Collective efficacy exists when neighbors know and trust each other, have strong informal networks of relationships and are willing to intervene in the supervision of children and the maintenance of public order.

These neighborhood characteristics are an extremely robust predictor of the degree of safety and extent to which people feel secure. Collective efficacy holds up as an independent, strong predictor of neighborhood safety over and beyond the effects of poverty and the stability of a neighborhood.

What is the scientific significance of this study?

The scientific breakthrough of this research is the tremendous number of neighborhoods studied and the development of reliable and valid methods for studying characteristics of neighborhoods.

This study involves more than 300 neighborhoods. This is a major leap since social science studies of this type are typically only able to study 12 to 20 neighborhoods in one city.

More importantly, the study has given social scientists a way to measure the characteristics of a community that is both reliable and valid. This study has captured factors of community characteristics, through more than 8000 interviews, in a way that can be correlated to data on other factors such as crime and violence.

Why was Chicago chosen? Do the findings apply to all neighborhoods?

Chicago was chosen because of the extensive racial, ethnic and social-class diversity of its population. Chicago effectively represents the diversity of neighborhoods in the United States, and these findings represent a large sample of those neighborhoods.

The authors or the report are confident that this data accurately portrays characteristics that affect urban neighborhoods across the country and that the results can be replicated. It is hoped that other researchers will use these methods to look at neighborhoods in other cities.

To whom is this information useful?

The significance of collective efficacy in predicting neighborhood safety is important not only to residents who are concerned about creating safer neighborhoods, but to anyone interested in the development of stronger, safer and more nurturing communities.

Accurately understanding the characteristics of neighborhoods that contribute to collective efficacy will provide planners, policy makers and community service organizations a better understanding of how to work with residents to positively impact community problems.

The research should be of particular interest to members of the law enforcement community involved in community policing initiatives.

What specific neighborhoods in Chicago demonstrate these findings?

The research is about identifying neighborhood characteristics and not about singling out specific neighborhoods as better or worse than each other. Because this study is part of a longer-range and larger research project, analysis will continue for some time. Investigators also look forward to other scientists replicating their results in the near future.

Who is sponsoring the Project?

The two primary sponsors of the Project are The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Institute of Justice. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is one of the nation's largest private philanthropic foundations. The National Institute of Justice is the research arm of the U. S. Department of Justice. Other support comes from the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education.


For more information and to schedule interviews with the report authors, please contact:

David Kindler
Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods 312-642-6813

Beverly Freeman
Harvard School of Public Health

Bill Harms
University of Chicago

L.R. Glenn Communications

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