Studies that have compared crime and criminal opportunities between neighborhoods may not be telling the full story, a new West Virginia University story has found.

Rachel Stein, associate professor of sociology and Jamison Conley, associate professor of geology, examined data from interviews and police call logs in a study using geographically weighted regressions to paint a more detailed picture of opportunities and conditions for crime in those neighborhoods.

In previous studies, Stein said, researchers may have declared that specific neighborhoods are more or less susceptible to crime or opportunities for crime due to conditions in their neighborhood, such as dilapidated buildings, or boarded up houses.

Stein’s research also found neighborhoods contained pockets where generalizations attached to those conditions didn’t apply. Generalizations include assuming high levels of crime must appear across all areas of neighborhoods.

“Not everybody in the neighborhood is thinking the same thing or feeling the same thing,” Stein said. “We found pockets where higher disorder meant higher crime, we found pockets where higher disorder meant lower crime. We found places where collective efficacy and cohesion (neighborhood cooperation) had lower crime, and then the opposite. We also found areas where none of it mattered.”

The data was collected in 2009 from 16 neighborhoods across four U.S. cities. The current study uses two adjacent neighborhoods in an eastern city. The two neighborhoods had a combined population of about 6,000 people. Door-to-door surveying was used, with residents being asked about their level of social cohesion, trust and control.

By understanding how opportunities for crime and criminal behavior exists on a smaller level, Stein and Conley said, residents and police can benefit to better solve issues, rather than try to temporarily stop them.

“There is geographic variation in what can lead to crime reports, even on a very localized scale,” Conley said. “By recognizing that the sociological processes that correlate with crime patterns vary from place to place, police departments can switch from a ‘one size fits all’ policing strategy that will only work in some areas to a more flexible strategy adapted to local community needs.”



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Director of Marketing and Communication, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, West Virginia University, 304-293-6867,

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