Reducing Fear of Crime: Who is Responsible?

Man in jacket in deteriorated building

A Summary of Police Quarterly Article: “Reducing Fear of Crime Citizen, Police or Government Responsibility?” (Renauer)

Brian C. Renauer of Portland State University investigates the “emotional fear of crime” in his 2007 article, “Reducing Fear of Crime – Citizen, Police or Government Responsibility?” Published in Police Quarterly, the article explores how residents’ perceptions of relations among neighbors and relationships with local police and government predict their fear of being the victim of specific types of crime. Though there are many nuanced elements of this study, it essentially found that residents’ fear of crime was less in neighborhoods where residents felt they shared similar values and trusted their neighbors and when they felt local police was effective in preventing crime. However, when residents felt local police would treat them disrespectfully and unfairly, their fear of crime was increased.

The Study

The Renauer study sought to determine whether “residents’ perception of informal neighborhood social control provides a stronger explanation of their emotional fear of crime compared to their perception of police and government activities in their neighborhood.” Two measures were used to indicate informal social control:

• Social cohesion – neighbors trust one another and share similar values
• Willingness to intervene – neighbors are willing to intervene to stop crime

Four measures were used to indicate police and government activities in neighborhood:

• Government responsiveness – local responsive to neighborhood problems
• Police legitimacy and procedural justice – fear of being disrespected and treated unfairly by police
• Police effectiveness – effective at preventing crime in neighborhood
• Police-citizen co-production – police have neighborhood crime meetings

The Results

The study found that social cohesion or, “residents who perceive heightened levels of trust, value sharing, and cohesion among their neighbors are significantly less likely to fear crime.”

When it comes to perceptions of police and government, the below factors were found to influence fear of crime:

• Perceived police effectiveness in preventing crime was related to lower fear
• Fear of encountering police was related to increased fear of crime

Going Forward

How can this emotional fear of crime be reduced? A combined effort within communities and local police forces seems, according to the study’s findings, to be the answer. Some solutions may include:

• Promoting community cohesion, willingness to address crime and strong neighbor relationships, especially in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
• Improving perceptions of police and local government efficacy by ensuring responsiveness and increasing trust in police.
• Strengthening the bonds both among likeminded neighbors and between communities and local police.
• Reducing fears of police encounters by increasing positive interactions between neighborhood residents and local police.