Why Fear of Crime Matters

Hi Readers! You know how you can go to one site to look something up and a few clicks later you end up someplace else completely different? (I was trying to find the percentage of parents who worry their kids will be kidnapped — a London study found 98%, but I couldn’t find a figure for the States. Can you?) That’s what just happened. One thing leads to another thing which leads you — or, now, us — to dsbfibirtr
this very intriguing 
Dept. of Justice memo from a few years back about how important it is to combat not just crime but also the FEAR of crime.

As Free-Rangers, you’re probably quite aware that the fear of crime is out of whack compared with the safe times we’re living in. But what I hadn’t realized before is that this crime perception gap bothers the cops as much as it bothers us! The Dept. of Justice goes so far as to quote  Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University,who has studied and evaluated police strategies since 1993: “He makes the case for paying attention to fear of crime as follows,” says the department, which then excerpts a 2006 Skogan piece:

Fear of crime is a social and political fact with concrete consequences for big-city life. The costs of fear are both individual and collective. Fear can confine people to their homes, and it undermines their trust in their neighbors and, especially, in their neighbors’ children. Fear is a key “quality of life” issue for many people. Research also indicates that concern about crime has bad consequences for the neighborhoods in which we live. Fear leads to withdrawal from public life, and it undermines informal and organized efforts by the community to control crime and delinquency. It is difficult to organize activities in neighborhoods where people fear their own neighbors. Fear undermines the value of residential property and thus the willingness of owners to maintain it properly. When customers – and even employees – fear entering a commercial area, the viability of businesses located there is threatened.

Of course on this site we discuss how fear changes childhood: Kids are kept indoors “for safety,” even in very safe neighborhoods. Pretty soon the parks are empty and this creates a vicious circle: Kids don’t go there because kids don’t go there. Instead, they are at home, often sedentary, or they’re at organized activities which can be wonderful — but they aren’t the same thing as playing. Kids playing informally, unsupervised have to figure out something to do ON THEIR OWN, and then make up the rules and then enforce the rules and then compromise, communicate, problem-solve and do all the other developmentally enriching things kids have always done…until now. When the fear of crime triumphed.

Any ideas on how to tamp down the fear and amp up the desire to go outside and connect are most welcome. – L.

Keep your hands — and your unreasonable level of fear — up.


39 Responses to Why Fear of Crime Matters

  1. Josh February 28, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    While crime in America is down in general, there are some places where it is very justified to have a fear of crime, like where I currently am in the city of Harrisburg, PA. We have some of the highest per capita crime rates in the country. There are routinely violent muggings and break-ins in my neighborhood, on my block! I personally know several people who have had guns pointed at them in the recent past.

    This is one of the reasons why we are moving out of the city. We fear for our and our son’s safety.

    Sometimes a fear of crime is justified.

  2. TrynaZ February 28, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    There is an excellent book on the heat wave in Chicago that killed over 200 people in the late 90’s that found many died holed up in their homes fearful of going outside , especially in evening after it had cooled off. Their neighbors-who also did not go outside-did not notice. Those that congregated outside with neighboors in the evenings on a regular basis had a higher survival rate. Maybe we need to encourage more FreeRange adults, too.

  3. M February 28, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    I’ve seen “fear of crime” stifle people to the point of paranoia.

    A friend married a woman from a small town. When they moved to “the big city”, which in reality was a fairly small city, she became fearful of crime.

    1-She wouldn’t answer the door if her husband wasn’t home
    2-She screened all her phone calls
    3-She couldn’t work, because she was too scared to drive in the city, wouldn’t ride public transportation, and was worried about crime on the streets and at work.

    When she got pregnant, I wondered how she could possibly cope with raising a child in what she saw as an extremely dangerous place.

  4. Kimberly February 28, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Wow. I live in a top 10 biggest city with plenty of crime, and I’m not scared at all. I do observe basic safety practices. But, I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid for my child either. Even in the city I live in, I am very unlikely to be a victim of a crime.

  5. John February 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    We tend to think of the absence of fear as something like feeling placid and calm, but I don’t think that’s right.

    The opposite of fear is love. When we practice loving compassionately, we sometimes can overcome our own fears of all kinds — not just of crime, but of being inadequate, or alone, or of being vulnerable to many other unpleasant states of mind we all fear.

    But as parents our “love tanks” are on empty. (I believe this is a term from the Five Love Languages book, which I could criticize but from which I also learned a lot.) We are spending our love on our kids in millions of little ways, and often we aren’t getting our tank refilled by our spouses. (Who often aren’t getting refilled by us.)

    A shortage of love — especially of self-love — gets expressed as fear.

    Choosing love over fear takes a lot of energy. I know I sure don’t make that choice all the time.

  6. pentamom February 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    I’ve found that people raised in the city fear the country, and people raised in the country fear the city. And some people fear everything.

    My six foot 250 pound brother-in-law used to be afraid to go into the “bad part of town” in the city to pick up auto parts at the auto parts store when he worked for a dealership. (He did it, but he’d talk about how he didn’t like it.) It wasn’t the nicest part of town, and there is crime in this city, but it’s not the stereotypical hood with bullets flying constantly, and no one would ever pick on my BIL after looking at him unless they had a grudge against him. But he’s lived in the country or in small towns all his life and heard stories when he was growing up about how bad the nearby city was, and he gets nervous going places that make me only mildly nervous.

    Another friend’ — another big guy — has lived in town all his life, and he was nervous about house-sitting for a few nights for someone, a few miles outside town. He thought it was “creepy.”

    Then there’s the friend who grew up in the country who sleeps with an oversized flashlight and feels nervous when her husband is out of town — and he travels a LOT, so it’s not a matter of not being used to it. They live out in the country in a modest house surrounded by wide-open spaces between houses — the idea of some random criminal driving all the way out there to do harm in a not particularly imposing looking house with nowhere to hide is pretty funny. I’m not saying nothing bad COULD happen, but it’s a remote enough possibility that I don’t think it’s worth worrying about.

    One thing I think people just don’t internalize — maybe because they don’t want to be judgmental or presumptuous about safety — is that a fairly high percentage of violent crime happens to people who associate with known violent people. That’s not to say the rest of us are immune from random crime, but the rate of random crime is much, much lower than the rate of “all scary things you read about in the newspaper.” Most of those home invasions are about people whose drug business acquaintances either think they’ve been double-crossed, or just happen to know they keep a lot of the business revenue in cash lying around the house. Most of the stupid kids who get shot on the street are stupid kids who have been known to wave guns around, themselves. I am NOT saying that therefore it doesn’t matter when it happens to those people, I’m just saying that people who don’t live that kind of lifestyle have a much lower risk of violent crime.

  7. pentamom February 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    So here’s a moderately scary thing that happened to me. In my nice cul de sac neighborhood in a relatively quiet part of the city, a few years ago, the house four doors up got shot at in a drive-by in the middle of the night. The residents of that house were evidently involved in drug-dealing, and had apparently made someone unhappy.

    While it was most certainly unsettling and we did exercise caution in various ways after that, it just did not make me scared to live here or let my kids go outside. That is because 1) the shots were obviously intended for the house, to intimidate the residents, not with murderous intent 2) it was not aimed at our house and 3) we do not have in common with the people in that house, the thing that caused the shots to be fired at the house.

    Are we infallibly protected from ever being harmed in such an incident? No. But rationally, that incident did not put us more at risk, or really even mean our neighborhood was “less safe,” than if the same thing had happened 100 miles away. We obviously told the kids who steer clear of the people in that house (the offending parties seem to be gone though the house has not changed hands) but we didn’t react as though our lives or safety had been directly threatened, because they hadn’t.

  8. Janet February 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    One thing that can be done to rise above the fear is to turn the T.V. OFF. The media is not helping this situation by constantly playing and over playing the few crimes that do occur. Focus on the good news.

  9. LRH February 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    This post is timely, because I had a question I was going to ask Lenore directly, but it’s quite relevant to this discussion, very much on-topic with it, so I will post it here. (Lenore, you are still welcome to reply to me with your thoughts on this if you wish.)

    Poster M kind of touched on it, talking about a woman who wouldn’t answer the door if her husband wasn’t home. What I’m talking about is that sort of thing, and how it’s affected me as a man. I have noticed in recent years that if you are, say, buying something from Craigslist or the newspaper ads, even beyond just the person wanting to meet in a public place, which is fine, many women won’t even do that unless they have someone with them, even in a public place. Other times they’ve been unable to leave the house and meet you somewhere due to lack of a car on their part, and when you offer to meet them at their place to buy it, their response is “oh no, my husband doesn’t want any strangers in the house if he’s not home.” Thus I end up unable to get the item I’m trying to buy.

    Am I being overly sensitive, or does this seem a bit ridiculous?

    An even more extreme example–3 years ago during a bout with unemployment, I finally got a job. I was so happy, I celebrated by bicycling 6 miles into a small local town. During this time we had befriended a married couple in our church and they knew of my plight, and it turns out they lived in this town. In fact we had visited them numerous times with no issue.

    Well while I was in that town, I decided to stop by and visit to tell them the good news. The wife was home, the husband was not. She answered the door and we talked a bit, but when I asked to come in to get a drink of water (I was bicycling during the month of May and it was probably 93’F outdoors), she wouldn’t let me, and was quite “panicky” in her response along those lines. She absolutely wouldn’t hear of it, and again, this is someone whom my wife & I both had met, and met her husband, and their children, and she wouldn’t let me in the house with her husband not present.

    Am I being overly sensitive, or does this seem a bit ridiculous?

    Me, I take offense to it frankly, especially the last case, where it was someone who knew us. What sort of community is that? And can you imagine how that makes me feel for someone to tell me that basically you are assuming me to be capable of harming or hurting you because I’m a man and you don’t have the National Guard present?

    It personally irritates me, so much so that in the case of the earlier stories, I’ve actually told them that it offended me and that if they wanted a buyer they here I was, but you’re losing out over what is frankly paranoia and a distrustful attitude. In the case of the latter we stopped going to church there altogether (also because of other things akin to it that occurred) and let them know such was the reason why.


  10. Rachel February 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    I’m guilty of this. I have two neighbors who have repeatedly stolen or vandalized property in my front yard (one is just a thief, the other hates my family because we’re lesbians). The local cops are incredibly hostile, and refuse to do anything about it, or even take a report. We were so afraid of the “Christian’s” constant vandalism and surveillance in 2008 that we didn’t leave the house unattended for months. We were genuinely afraid they might resort to arson, not because they said they would or anything, but because we had no idea what they were capable of.

    I got sick of it and have stopped decorating for the holidays, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters (our house used to be the biggest deal in town at Halloween, but we couldn’t afford to keep replacing vandalized props), doing any yardwork beyond the minimum amount of mowing required by statute, and as a consequence, I spend no time in my front yard, and don’t know any of the people who have moved onto the street in the last four years. I’m sure our weeds are bad for property values, but I no longer find it possible to care about a community that mostly doesn’t care about me.

  11. Christina February 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Ok, I must admit I haven’t yet actually gotten past the first couple of sentences. 98% of parents in the UK are afraid their kids will get kidnapped?!?!?!!!!!! Like most parents, I’m pretty sure my kids are some of the most adorable ever, but I’m not sure I’ve given even a passing thought that someone else would want to kidnap them.

  12. Christina February 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    @Rachel – That blows. So sorry you have been going through such an awful experience.

  13. hineata February 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    @Christine – I was wondering the same thing. I sometimes think they set up these surveys to best get the results they want. Were they surveying mothers of two-day-old babies, a time when your hormones are way out of whack? If they had surveyed mothers of sickly and/or teething toddlers at 2am on any given morning, they might have found 98% of parents were worried that their child wouldn’t be kidnapped, LOL!

  14. Captain America February 28, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Lenore, anyone, take a look at the book, Innumeracy, which documents the severe handicaps faced by modern Americans when it comes to understanding mathematics; this impacts our understanding of statistics.

    I’m in Illinois, so I am fortunate to live in a state which is now forced by the courts to accept “concealed carry” handguns. Nice.

    I used to work at McDonald’s when I was a teenager, and it was there that I learned just how “rational” the average Joe really is! Now the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has just increased, slightly, my chances of getting hit by bullets while in public!

  15. Captain America February 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    PS: I’m tired of courts telling us what values we should have.

  16. Donna February 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Most of the fear of crime is a misperception of crime. Saying that crime has decreased really doesn’t mean anything to most people since crime in the US is still very common. If it wasn’t, public defenders and DAs wouldn’t maintain caseloads of about 300-500 cases a piece at any one given time in moderate crime areas (much higher levels in high crime areas).

    But violent crime is rarely random. The victims and perpetrators almost always have some connection to each other. To the point that even those of us who work in the criminal law field and deal with crime daily are surprised when a random act of violence comes across our desk.

    Violence is almost always a crime of passion – love, hatred, fear, rage; it rarely results from a lack of feeling and it is very difficult to feel passion for strangers. You occasionally run across someone who is mad at the world and takes it out on anyone nearby or someone who is a true psychotic and hurts for sport, but those people are rare. Violence is more typically retaliation for a perceived wrong or the heat of the moment. It is domestic violence, a drug deal gone bad, a robbery interrupted, a drunken fight that gets out of hand, gang violence directed at a rival gang.

    So if you are a person who is so full of rage yourself that you get into the faces of everyone who slights you, you may get into the wrong face at some point. If you are involved in the drug trade or other criminal activity, you may cross the wrong person one day. If you work or live in an area likely to be robbed, you may get robbed by someone willing to kill to get what they want. If you get drunk with people who get violent when drunk, you may get the bad end of the stick one day. If you associate with/are related to violent people, they may turn on you one day.

    The rest of us are pretty safe from criminal violence. There is a slight risk that you will cross paths with one of the rare individuals who hurt for sport. There is a slight risk that you will be caught in the crossfire of something completely unrelated to you. There is a slight chance that you will interrupt a crime being committed by someone willing and prepared to kill (most burglars are unarmed and only become dangerous if YOU have weapons that they can access). Those things do happen, but they are not common and not the basis of the vast majority of the 300-500 cases sitting on the desk of any given public defender or DA in the country.

  17. Erin February 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I couldn’t find stats on American fear specifically, but I did come across this great article on our distorted sense of fear, including fear of kidnapping. I found it very interesting that, similar to the article you linked here, national kidnapping rates are actually on the decline but fear & paranoia continue to climb.

    To my mind, there is a big difference between caution and paranoia. I do believe that times change – and precautions with it. For example, homes today have more fire hazards – more appliances, more lights, more electronics, etc. – than they did 50 years ago. (Although our regulations have also improved.) So it’s even more important today to teach our kids fire safety, help them develop an escape route, let them participate in smoke alarm testing, etc. But we don’t need to scare them, because the chance of your house burning down is slim.

    Likewise, it’s our responsibility to teach our children how to safely ride the subway or what to do if a stranger approaches or ____. But we should not live in fear of slim possibilities or exaggerated statistics. That’s not healthy or helpful to anyone.

  18. hineata February 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    @LRH – depends. On the small town, on the fear of what the neighbours think. The positives of small towns, and churches for that matter, are the community support you usually get. The negatives are things like gossip. If this woman thought the neighbours were watching, she might have been particularly reluctant to let you into the house.

    I don’t agree with her – I think her behaviour sucked. Am just saying that if she was worried about being the subject of gossip, her concern might not have been entirely unwarranted. Not everyone is strong enough to stand up to that nonsense. My mum lives in a small town, the same one we grew up in, and is still amazed by the stories people spin out of not much at all. (BTW, the really juicy stories often get missed until they blow up in peoples’ faces, so fixed are people on the small nothings).

    Can understand why you left that church – that sort of thing is hurtful.

  19. mollie February 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    The climate of fear was so stifling to me in midwestern USA that I decided to move to another country. Fear of violence, fear of not belonging, fear of judgement, fear of the “other.”

    The fear seems to go very deep in the American culture… I’m sure sociologists have investigated this, but anytime you are aggressive, on some level, you’re fearing retaliation; since aggressive acts are the foundation upon which the US was built (slavery, Jim Crow, genocide of native people, preemptive military attack), so it’s no wonder that those who have benefited from all that aggression tend to look over their shoulder.

    It’s not limited to the US. You can certainly find pockets of paranoia worldwide, especially where there is money. Since affluence is a big part of this hysterical fear of the imagined, materialism and fear go hand in hand — if we identify overmuch with our stuff, we feel attached and fearful, and expect that everyone else is wanting to take it from us.

    Back to the violence-begets-violence thing: any government that has taken advantage of others (and most Western societies have exploited someone along the way), there’s that nagging sensation that the shoe might drop. When you’ve robbed, raped and stolen, your conscience isn’t clear, and fear of violent punishment is how we are taught to self-regulate in Western cultures. Even if we’re not fearing each other, we’re fearing God’s wrath.

    So what can we do about it? I agree with John: the opposite of fear is Love. Self-love, self-compassion and self-forgiveness are possibly the most important steps toward peace on Earth. Guilt, shame, blame, aggression, violence, defensiveness… all can melt away once we realize that we ourselves are loveable, and there is nothing that another human being has done that we ourselves aren’t capable of, given certain circumstances. Suddenly, we see everyone through the filter of acceptance and compassion: there is no “other.” There is only “us.”

  20. Crystal February 28, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Rachel, as a Christian, I want to apologize to you and your partner. That sort of awful, anti-community behavior is obviously NOT what Jesus would want us to do, no matter if we disagree on certain issues. If you and I lived near each other, my family would wholeheartedly invite you over and get to know you as a neighbor who deserves love and respect, not fear and vandalism.

    Praying your situation changes, along with your neigbors’ hearts.

  21. Stephanie February 28, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    LRH, I can’t imagine not letting someone I know in to get a drink of water on a hot day. I wouldn’t care what the neighbors would think, none of their business. Panicky seems an odd reaction to someone familiar.

    That said, sometimes people don’t realize how their reactions look to others. My oldest daughter a few weeks ago had a friend’s mom offer her a ride home from her Destination Imagination meeting. My daughter refused because she can’t take rides home unless I know the parents, and it’s only a 5 minute walk anyhow. I met up with the mom a week or so later, and she felt my daughter’s reaction was panicky. When I discussed it with my daughter, she disagreed that her reaction had been that way.

  22. Donna February 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    @Stephanie – Depends on what was meant by reaction. If the other mother means “she acted panicked” then your daughter’s viewpoint as to whether she was panicked would matter. However, I would say that a prohibition on being able to ride in a car with a FRIEND is a panicked response to the level of threat that exists in the situation and that could be all the other mother meant.

  23. hineata February 28, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Lenore – I also think your picture today says it all.

    That even cartoon characters find it necessary to ‘pack heat’ indicates a reasonably paranoid culture, LOL! Our cartoon characters would only be armed with bits of 4″ by 2″, the odd chain, or baseball bats, the weapons of gentlemen 🙂

  24. Gina February 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    @Rachel–I am so sorry for your horrible experience. I can’t find the words to say how it makes me feel.
    @LRH–That’s an interesting comment on Craligslist. I use CL a lot and because much of what I’m buying, trading or selling is reptile related, I end up dealing with a lot of men. My daughter and my husband think I’m taking a HUGE risk every time I leave the house for a CL transaction. I usually meet the person in a public place, but sometimes I do go to a private home..it just depends on the situation. In all the time I’ve done this (3 years) I have never had a bad experience with a person, male or female (I have felt a little scared in a couple of neighborhoods.) The fact is, most people are decent and kind–EVEN MEN!!! LOL….How silly to fear half the human race.

  25. Josh February 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    I will state it again. Those of you who are living in suburbia can talk all you want about the perception of crime.

    In my neighborhood, people randomly have a gun pointed at them and are robbed of everything in their possession.

    There ARE places like this, and if you are not aware, and yes, sometimes even afraid, you will become a victim.

    Two of the toughest guys I know have both been randomly mugged in my neighborhood in the past year.

    Just last week someone was mugged right outside a popular bookstore in broad daylight.

    When I moved here initially, I took the same view as a lot of you, that the fear was unreasonable. Now that I’ve been here for a while I have come to see that random violent crime in this place is very real.

    I’m getting out.

  26. FredTownWard February 28, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    A pretty simple way to tamp down the fear of crime and for that matter materially reduce crime as well is to allow concealed carry of handguns. It has worked everywhere it has been tried.

    Those responsible adults who wish to take upon themselves the awesome responsibility of carrying a concealed firearm are free to do so; those who do not, benefit from criminals’ inability to determine who is armed and who is not.

    Of course this peace-of-mind/measurable-safety-increase ceases whenever you enter a publicly designated “gun free zone” because, as both criminals and crazies know and have come to rely upon, the law abiding won’t bring their guns inside one.

    But anywhere else in a concealed carry jurisdiction you can and probably will find yourself feeling safer,…

    unless you suffer from a pathological fear of firearms, in which case you might as well stay home and hide under your bed.

  27. Yan Seiner February 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    @Josh: Fear is different from caution. If your neighborhood is truly dangerous as you describe, then yes, caution is in order. However, many people are afraid just of the possibility of crime. This would be like me telling my kids:

    I saw this post on this website from a guy named Josh who said a couple of his friends were mugged, so you’re not allowed to go outside.

    That’s what fear does.

  28. Donald February 28, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Fear of crime justified

    In some areas crime is on the increase. However the major cause of this is the fear hysteria.

    The fear of crime has increased, therefore more people have guns, therefore crime is even scarier, therefore more people have a stronger urge for self protection, therefore the world is even scarier.

    This circular argument is the major cause for tribalism. No wonder why gang violence is so bad. They are all guarding their territory so they can feel safe.

  29. Donald February 28, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    I lived in the country. My neighbor across the street was on several acres that have been cleared (nowhere to hide). She had a high fence around her property, 3 guard dogs, and spotlights that surrounded her house that were on all night (even 3 am)

    She has a lot more to worry about than crime. With fear like that she will probably die of a disease like cancer that is GREATLY fueled by fear.

  30. hineata February 28, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    @FredTownWard – or you could just live in a place where few people, criminal or otherwise, have guns, and your likelihood of being shot would fall to stuff-all.

    Other crimes, who knows……

    Still, as the ‘gun’ thing seems to be tied to emotion rather than reason, carry on carrying them.Just hope some fearful person doesn’t take a dislike to the way you looked at them and shoot you ‘just in case’. With their previously-concealed weapon.

  31. pentamom March 1, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Josh — that’s exactly the point. Most people don’t have to be concerned about violent crime because the risk is not significant enough to justify changing behavior (beyond normal, sensible precautions.) Some do. But most don’t (because even though the number of people living in dangerous neighborhoods is not trivial, it is by far the minority of people), and those who do fear it, when they don’t need to, are not rationally looking at their circumstances.

    The point is not that no one ever has anything to worry about, it’s that most people who worry about it, are engaging in false worry.

  32. EricS March 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with fear. So long as it’s used to strengthen ourselves, both emotionally and mentally. Fear is a natural human emotion, just like love and anger. And just like those other emotions, it can help us to have a better life, or destroy us slowly. Eg. Fear can keep us on our toes. Alert. Observant to the things around us. As we should already be. Don’t mistake alertness for paranoia. The more we are alert and aware of our surroundings, the more our intuition and confidence strengthens. And eventually, it just becomes second nature. That’s how many of us grew up. At a young age, I was exposed to urban life. Homeless people, prostitutes, drug dealers, that was always around us. But children back then learned quickly how to traverse life at the time. Our natural instincts were honed because we were forced/encouraged to fend for ourselves at least half the time growing up. We also learned about probables and possibles, and to use common sense when discerning between the two. I also find the police article pretty ironic. Considering, these days, cops are some of the people who perpetuate fear in people’s minds. How often do we hear stories about cops scolding parents for leaving their child “unattended” in their car while they go in to pay for gas, or grab something quick in the grocery store. Inciting fear and paranoid thoughts. Not just in adults, but children as well. Like the “Boogeyman” stories our parents told us as kids, to scare us into being “good”. And always, it’s mostly to quell their own fears.

  33. Donna March 1, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Josh – But the fact still remains that your experience is an anomaly. Apparently even for Harrisburg since I have friends who live there who like it and don’t describe it as a high crime area or fear being mugged.

    You have extrapolated your experience out to all cities. The rest of us must live in Suburbia. Nope. I detest suburbia and have never lived there. I live (or did when I lived in the US) in the inner city of a small city with the highest poverty rate for a city its size in the US according to the last census. We have a high crime rate. And still 99 times out of a hundred violence falls into 3 categories: drug-related, domestic violence, and armed robberies of stores. One year recently every single murder (about 10) committed was domestic violence related. And the violence is largely centralized in the housing projects and not the city at large.

    Is that the only violence? No. Occasionally someone gets mugged downtown. We house the major state university and occasionally a coed reports a stranger rape (often someone who took advantage of her very inebriated state but not always). An occasional mental health patient goes off his meds and attacks someone.

    But I never said there was 100% no random acts of violence. Although 99 out of 100 cases of violence don’t involve strangers, we have far more than 100 incidents of violence a year. We get a handful of random acts of violence each year. Almost never murder but assault, muggings, rape. In a small geographic area with 150,000 permanent residents and another 30,000 college students during the school year, it is a drop in the bucket.

    That is the misperception. I didn’t say random acts of violence never occur. It is that people look at the statistics and say “oh my god, 10,000 murders took place in the US last year (completely random number as I have no idea how many murders took place last year); I’m afraid to leave my house” with no understanding or context that 9,900 of them involved domestic violence and people known to each other. They assume that that means that they have a 10,000 chance of being a crime victim and not a 100 chance of being a crime victim.

  34. pentamom March 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Harrisburg has a bad reputation among Pennsylvanians going way back. Even those of us who live in towns with our own crime problems have a pretty negative impression of it (the city limits, not the metro area, which has its very nice parts.) It seems fairly anomalous in how crime-ridden it is for a city of its size (~50,000). But that’s just the point — just because Josh may be accurately assessing his neighborhood and there may be many, many neighborhoods like it across the U.S. does not make it reasonable for all Americans to fear “crime” as though it is all equally random and undifferentiated. Risk is never really average across widely varying circumstances, it’s distributed according to people’s particular circumstances. A 15 year old inner city kid who runs with people who do drugs and commit armed robbery probably has something like a 60% chance of being a victim of violent crime in a given year; my risk is probably somewhere around .02%. This does not mean that my risk is 30% and his is 30%. (Made up numbers, but probably somewhere in the ballpark.)

    So the answer is that Josh certainly should move out of his neighborhood if he’s worried and he considers that a good solution, but people who do not live in a neighborhood like Josh’s should not worry much about violent crime, even though Josh should. So the point of the post still stands — people should not worry because of the “crime rate.” If they should worry, it’s because they exist within particular circumstances.

  35. EricS March 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    @Josh: I have lived in a major city all my life. At one point, we even had a reputation for escalating gun violence. But I have never feared. Yes, some places are worse than others. But like every where else, you will have random occurrences of crime. But it doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere, and is an epidemic. You can live in the most remote place, with very little crime. But as long as there are a few people who like to pick on others, it’s a toss of the dice as to whether you will be a victim or not. Just because it’s happened to people you know, doesn’t mean it will happen to you. It’s also a mindset. If you fear, that fear can manifest into weakness. And there are many unsavories out there that love to prey on the weak. I’ve learned from a very young age what to watch out for, how to deal with certain situations. Now, it’s second nature for me to be observant. I look at everyone that walks by (look..not stare). I do make eye contact even in the “bad parts” of my city. No one bothers me. Yet, the guy behind me looking down avoiding them, is the one that gets harassed. That is human nature. The weak are dominated by the strong. And it doesn’t matter where you end up, there will always be the weak, and among them the strong. The only way you can escape that is i fyou live as a hermit in the mountains somewhere. Void of any human contact. You can’t change your environment, but you can change yourself to adapt to your environment.

  36. Jynet March 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    My now almost 19yo daughter has been having an ongoing conversation with her 22yo friend about being in downtown after dark. The city we live in is (metro) about a million people, and it certainly is more… um… ‘lively’ downtown now than it was when I was her age, but it is still a pretty safe place.

    Her friend’s parents (22 years old, remember?) drive her downtown to the dance every Friday – btw, they dance Swing Dance… how cool is that? – and pick her up when she wants to go home.

    My daughter takes the bus, which means at midnight she catches a bus on the corner near the dance hall, and has an hour or so ride (two buses) to get home.

    Her friend is convinced this is unsafe because of “all the crime”… but really because her parents have told her it is unsafe, so it is.

    My daughter has been trying to explain evaluating risk and making a decision if the risk is acceptable or not (don’t stand in the shadows, is the guy asking for the time *really* just asking for the time, etc, etc), but there doesn’t seem to be much understanding of “level of risk”.

    My daughter, last time, asked her friend what she would do if her parents couldn’t come and get her… and the friend’s answer was: “What do you mean? They always come.” No concept that they could be unavoidably detained and at 22 she should be able to make her own way home… or that it was safe to do so.


  37. Shawn March 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    Get rid of your television. It is the biggest purveyor of fear in this modern world.

  38. Beth March 3, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    TV is just as valid a medium for compelling storytelling as anything else. It might be a good idea to look at your viewing choices if you are becoming fearful by what you see on TV, but I doubt it’s necessary to get rid of it.

    I also believe that there are as many books, movies, newspapers, and internet articles that purvey fear as TV shows.


  1. Articles for Thursday » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog - February 28, 2013

    […] Lenore Skenazy: Why Fear of Crime Matters […]