Problems with a lack of conceptual clarity hampered the development of
the theory of social disorganization since the early work of Shaw and
McKay (1942). Bursik (1988; also see Bursik and Grasmick 1993), for example,
has argued that one of the most important confusions surrounding Shaw
and McKay's work was the lack of distinction between social disorganization
and crime. Is social disorganization an important factor in understanding
neighborhood crime rates? Is it a result of crime? Or is crime an indicator
of social disorganization?
The revitalization of social disorganization in the 1980's is attributable,
at least in part, to the work of theorists and researchers clarifying
and reformulating Shaw and McKay's model. Two models in particular have
been the focus of much attention. The first is the systemic model developed
by a number of theorists but associated most closely with Bursik and Grasmick
(1993). Central to the systemic model are social ties which are seen as
critical to social control for they are the mechanism through which individuals
in a neighborhood come to know each other, establish common values, and
carry out informal social control. In addition, recent work has recognized
that social ties are critical in the distribution of, and access to, social
capital and social support (Bursik 1999).
Along with its emphasis on social ties, the systemic model focuses on
the ability to enact social control. Under systemic models, social
control is defined as:
the effort of the community to regulate itself and the behavior of
residents and visitors to the neighborhood to achieve . . .the common
goal of living in an area relatively free from threat of crime (Bursik
and Grasmick 1993: 15).
According to Bursik and Grasmick (1993), systemic models of social disorganization
then attempt to identify the factors that decrease the "regulatory
ability" of neighborhoods (see also Kornhauser 1978). The twin
emphases on social ties and ability suggest that social ties are seen
in systemic models as a measure of the neighborhood's regulatory ability.
Without access to the resources provided by social ties, the ability to
intervene is diminished for there is no effective way to reward conformity
or punish deviance (for examples see Bursik 1999; Sullivan 1989; Valentine
More recent is a second model of neighborhood crime found in the recent
work of Sampson and his colleagues (1997, 1999) on collective efficacy.
The term "collective efficacy" as defined by Sampson and his
colleagues (Sampson, Randenbush, and Earls 1997) involves informal social
control and trust/social cohesion. Sampson and his colleagues define informal
social control in terms of the perceived willingness to intervene. The
link to trust and social cohesion is that neighbors are unlikely to be
willing to intervene if levels of trust and cohesion are low. As
In sum, it is the linkage of mutual trust and the willingness to intervene
for the common good that defines the neighborhood context of collective
efficacy. Just as individuals vary in their capacity for efficacious
action, so too do neighborhoods vary in their capacity to achieve common
goals (Sampson et al. 1997: 919).
Collective efficacy-both the willingness to intervene and trust/social
cohesion-is predicted by Sampson and his colleagues (1997) to be shaped
by neighborhood structural characteristics including residential mobility
and concentrated disadvantage. Thus, while one model, Bursik and Grasmick's
(1993), focuses on ability to intervene; another, that of Sampson
and his colleagues (1997), emphasizes the willingness to intervene.
Despite the interest of social disorganization theorists in both the ability
and willingness to enact social control, researchers interested in exploring
the contribution of these factors to neighborhood crime rates face at
least three difficulties. First, often no clear definition of ability
or willingness is provided so that researchers can distinguish between
the two concepts. Since social disorganization researchers thus far have
focused on one or the other of the two concepts, there has been no need
to draw a distinction between the two concepts. The lack of clear definitions
and the empirical focus on one over the other concept leads to a second
difficulty. It is not clear, theoretically, if the factors affecting ability
are the same factors affecting willingness. There is reason to believe,
however, that the factors affecting each theoretical construct are at
least partially unique. Finally, there is no clear understanding in the
social disorganization literature of how the two concepts relate and how
they independently or interactively affect neighborhood rates of crime.
An additional problem exists with the research on the willingness and
ability to enact social control. Much of what is known about ability and
willingness deals with informal social control (see for example, Kubrin
and Weitzer 2003; Bursik and Grasmick 1993). Theorists and researchers
alike, however, recognize the need to examine formal control as a type
of control important for understanding neighborhood rates of crime (see
for example Kubrin and Weitzer 2003; Bursik and Grasmick 1993).
The purpose of this research is to simultaneously explore two theoretically
important conceptual variables in social disorganization theory and to
empirically assess their potential for understanding neighborhood crime
rates. In the first half of the paper, a discussion of ability and willingness
to intervene and enact social control is begun. We attempt to provide
definitions of each concept, review the literature on factors that affect
each, discuss how the two concepts are conceptually linked, and ultimately
develop a model that specifies how the concepts mediate structural characteristics
of neighborhoods and subsequently affect neighborhood crime rates.
In the second half of the paper, an analysis of the ability and willingness
to enact social control is presented. The analysis focuses on two forms
of ability; social ties and quality of police services, as well as one
form of willingness to enact formal social control; cooperation with the
police. Three questions inform the analysis. The first asks if there is
variation across neighborhoods in the ability to enact social control
and willingness to enact formal control by cooperating with the police.
HLM models with willingness, perceptions of police ability, and social
ties with no independent variables were used to address this question.
The second question deals with the individual and neighborhood level factors
that affect ability and willingness. Three HLM models were estimated so
that the effects of the level two variables can be interpreted as contextual
effects (Bryk and Raudenbush 1992). The third research question concerns
the effect of ability and willingness on neighborhood crime rates, specifically
concerning burglary and assault. To estimate their effects, we first aggregated
these measures by taking the mean of each variable and then running ordinary
least squares regression. Finally, we also used regression to test for
interactions between social ties and the measure of disadvantage and alienation
from the police.
ABILITY AND WILLINGNESS TO ENACT SOCIAL CONTROL
Defining Ability and Willingness
The problem of social control is central to the work of criminologists
in general and social disorganization theorists in particular. Social
control deals with attempts to control the behavior of group members by
the use of rewards and/or punishments (Kornhauser 1978). Social control
includes consideration of both internal and external forms of control
(Kornhauser 1978). Internal controls include both direct (such as the
guilt one feels after doing something wrong because of internalization
of beliefs) and indirect (such as the effect of commitment to conventional
goals) forms of control. Social disorganization theorists, though, have
focused most often on external controls, both direct (the result of supervision)
and indirect (the result of social ties).
When considering external controls it is important to make a distinction
between the ability to control behavior and the willingness to do so.
Though both are necessary for effective external control, they are distinct.
The distinction seems to be recognized by social disorganization theorists,
some of whom focus on ability (Bursik and Grasmick 1993), while others
focus on willingness (Sampson, Randenbush, and Earls 1997). It is because
of the distinctiveness and importance of each that it is necessary to
establish working definitions of ability and willingness to enact social
control. Ability refers to the existence of, access to, or the
capacity to create resources needed to enact social control. Willingness,
on the other hand, refers to the motivation or desire to use available
resources for social control. Central to the definition of both terms
is the concept of resources. Following the lead of Coleman (1990) and
Cullen (1994; Cullen, Wright, and Chamlin 1999), we define two broad types
of resources as important for social control; social capital and social
support. Social capital is defined as "the set of resources that
inhere in family and community social organization and that are useful
for the cognitive or social development of a child or young person"
(Coleman 1990: 300) that can be "accessed and/or mobilized for purpose
of action" (Lin 2001: 25). Social support, on the other hand, is
typically defined as "the perceived or actual instrumental and/or
expressive provisions supplied by the community, social ties and confiding
partners" (Lin 1986: 18; see also Cullen 1994). It too is embedded
in, or emerges from, communities and is demonstrated at the community
level in the "social altruism" or "capacity for compassionate
action inherent in the neighborhood" (Chamlin and Cochran 1997; Silver,
There is research that assesses the impact of ability and willingness
to enact social control. At this point, three things are notable about
this research. First, the research focuses on one or the other of the
two concepts. Second, often the evidence about ability and willingness
is indirect. Third, the research deals largely with the informal level
Research on the impact of ability as measured directly in terms of social
capital and social support is rare. Some research on social support is
available and is beginning to provide support for Cullen's contention
that social support varies across neighborhoods. For example, Silver (2000)
found that neighborhoods vary in the levels of social support available
to psychiatric patients. More evidence does exist using several indirect
measures of ability, particularly structural disadvantage and social ties.
Research does find that neighborhoods characterized by disadvantage have
higher crime rates than those that are not (e.g., Bursik and Grasmick
1993; Peterson, Krivo, and Harris 2000).
Research findings on social ties, which can be seen as paths through which
social capital and social support are accessed or created and thus proxies
of ability, are inconsistent. Some studies found that social ties are
important in understanding neighborhood levels of crime and risk of victimization
(Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Sampson et al. 1997; Sampson and Groves
1989; Velez 2001; Veysey and Messner 1999). Simcha-Fagan and Schwartz
(1986), however, found no relationship. Finally, Warner and Rountree (1997)
found that the relationship of social ties to neighborhood rates of crime
varies by type of crime and type of neighborhood. In particular, they
found that social ties do not decrease crime in mixed or minority neighborhoods.
Warner and Rountree (1997) concluded that social ties might not be as
important in understanding social control in some neighborhoods as others.
Ethnographic research also supports this conclusion, indicating the existence
of neighborhoods with dense social ties that still have high crime rates
Research on the effect of willingness is more direct. Research by Sampson
and his colleagues (Sampson et al. 1997; Morenoff, Sampson, and Raudenbush
2001) on collective efficacy supports the idea that willingness, as measured
by respondents' perceptions of how likely it is that their neighbors would
intervene in various situations, is important in understanding neighborhood
rates of crime. In addition, an early study by Maccoby, Johnson, and Church
(1958) also found that high and low crime rate neighborhoods vary in terms
of residents' willingness to intervene in the activities of neighborhood
Factors Shaping Ability and Willingness
Having defined ability and willingness to enact social control, the factors
that shape each can be discussed. Following the lead of Bursik and Grasmick
(1993), neighborhood structural characteristics are identified as important
factors shaping the ability to enact social control. Following the lead
of Sampson and his colleagues, four factors are identified as important
in understanding willingness-neighborhood structural characteristics,
trust, environmental characteristics, and ability.
From the work of Shaw and McKay (1942) on, social disorganization theorists
have focused on neighborhood structural characteristics as factors shaping
the ability to enact social control. Today's systemic model follows this
lead by positing that neighborhood structural characteristics shape social
ties. In particular, the systemic model argues that it is the structure
of social ties-their size, breadth, and depth-that are affected by neighborhood
structural characteristics (see Bursik and Grasmick 1993; Bursik 2000).
For example, Bursik (2000) argues that mobility and racial heterogeneity
diminish the size, breadth, and depth of social ties, because they affect
the time one has to build relationships and the social distance between
Research provides general support for the prediction that neighborhood
structural characteristics shape social ties, but the findings are somewhat
inconsistent. For example, at the individual level, socioeconomic status
has been found to have a positive effect on frequency of social interaction
in one study (Bellair 1997), but a negative effect on friendships and
acquaintances with immediate neighbors in others (Sampson, 1991, also
see Sampson and Groves 1989). At the aggregate neighborhood level, research
found rates of poverty to be unrelated to social ties (e.g., Sampson 1991).
Residential stability has been found to be positively associated with
social ties (Warner and Rountree 1997) and network density (Sampson 1991)
in some research. Bellair (1997), however, reported that residential stability
was unrelated to social interaction. More consistently, racial and ethnic
heterogeneity are found in research to be negatively related to social
interaction (Bellair, 1997) and social ties (Warner and Rountree 1997).
In models of collective efficacy, where willingness is the focus, neighborhood
structural characteristics are also posited to be important. Sampson et
al., (1997) focus particularly on how mobility and heterogeneity break
down the trust and social cohesion on which a willingness to intervene
is built (see also Ross, Mirowsky, and Pribesh 2001). Research on collective
efficacy supports this prediction. In their research, Sampson and his
colleagues (1997) found that concentrated disadvantage in neighborhoods
is negatively related to collective efficacy while individual level socioeconomic
status is positively associated with collective efficacy. In addition,
in an early study of willingness to intervene, Hackler, Ho, and Urquhart-Ross
(1974) found that upper class neighborhoods were more inclined to intervene
informally than lower class neighborhoods, though some were even more
likely to intervene formally.
Sampson and his colleagues (1997) identify another factor important in
shaping willingness to enact social control; trust. Sampson and his colleagues
(1997) argue that to the extent that neighbors are trusted, willingness
to intervene is increased. Their research supports this prediction. Research
on the relationship between trust of the various agents of the criminal
justice system and willingness to intervene also supports this prediction.
In an early study of the relationship between attitudes towards police
and citizen behavior, Harlan (1971) found that residents of a ghetto neighborhood
in Detroit had high levels of distrust of the police. He found further
that these attitudes were significantly related to their responses to
hypothetical situations asking about intentions to report to the police.
In addition, some researchers examining battered women have tied race
with mistrust and previous negative experiences with police to the decision
not to call the police (Fleury, Sullivan, Bybee, and Davidson 1998; Rasche
At the neighborhood level, Zatz and Portillos' (2000) research on South
Phoenix neighborhoods supports the conclusion that distrust of police
is related to an unwillingness to call them, even in the face of a serious
crime. They found that while part of the neighborhood was willing to support
the police in the control of gangs, another part was unwilling to do so
because of their distrust of the police. In addition, Triplett, Sun, and
Gainey (2002) found that neighborhood levels of the perception of the
police as legitimate (as measured by perceptions of the police as providing
quality services, providing the kind of services neighborhood residents
wanted, and their neighborhood receiving about or more than its fair share
of police services) significantly affect one type of coordinated action,
willingness to cooperate with the police. This, in turn, was found to
significantly affect neighborhood rates of crime.
More recently, in an important study on St. Louis neighborhoods, Kubrin
and Weitzer (2003a) found support for the idea that a distrust of the
police is related to an unwillingness to call them. They discuss a "policing
vacuum" in extremely disadvantaged St. Louis neighborhoods where
the perception that the police are inadequate leads, in part, to the development
of a culture that demands that individuals use "summary justice"
to handle offenses themselves. Their research focused on retaliatory homicide
where they found that individuals typically decided to handle matters
themselves instead of calling the police. Even for the serious offense
of homicide, Kubrin and Weitzer (2003a) found an unwillingness to assist
the police even by providing information. Fear of retaliation, accompanied
by the perception that the police could not protect them, was a key factor
found in shaping this lack of willingness to cooperate.
Further evidence supporting a link between citizens' attitudes toward
police service and willingness to call the police comes from ethnographic
research. For example, in Anderson's (1999) description of Germantown
Avenue, residents report that the police are indifferent in some situations
and abusive in others, something they do not see occurring in other neighborhoods
(see Wacquant 2002 for a critique of Anderson; but see also Anderson's
2002 response). He writes:
In the community the police are often on the streets, but they are
not always considered to have the community's best interests at heart
the inner-city community there is a generalized belief that the police
simply do not care about black people
Many assume that the police
hold the black community in low repute and sometimes will abuse its
members. As a result, residents are alienated from the police and police
authority (Anderson 1999: 320-321).
This alienation leads directly to unwillingness to call the police as
Anderson's (1999) description of a situation involving a "decent"
family illustrates. Here he describes a "decent" family that
becomes concerned about the activities of a new neighbor who is obviously
"street." Frustrated and demoralized by the past behavior of
the police, members of the "decent" family are reluctant to
do anything themselves about the behavior of "street families"
for fear of retaliation, nor will they call the police for help.
Environmental characteristics (e.g., signs of social disorder) and land
use factors, in particularly the presence of bars or nightclubs, have
consistently been linked to neighborhood crime rates (Davidson and Smith
2001; Parker and Auerhahn 1998; Peterson et al. 2000; Rocek and Maier
1991; Skogan 1990). There are three reasons why the presence of bars,
liquor stores, or nightclubs may also affect persons' willingness to intervene
and hence their effects on crime may be, at least partially, indirect.
First, such businesses are often located in areas that are also characterized
by signs of disorder. In these areas, individuals may be so focused on
their own security that they fail to intervene in situations where they
normally would. Second, the nature of the service bars and nightclubs
provide may decrease the level at which individuals are willing to intervene.
For example, even if an individual would normally intervene upon seeing
someone stumble in a parking lot, the belief that this person is simply
drunk because they are coming out of a bar may reduce the chance an individual
is willing to intervene. Finally, these institutions are often guarded
by formal agents of social control (e.g., local police or private security).
Such activities may make individuals feel that it is not their responsibility
A final factor predicted to shape willingness is ability itself. Sampson
et al., (1997) argue that social cohesion is a final factor important
in shaping willingness. To the extent that social cohesion is also about
social ties, and that social ties are paths through which resources for
social control are made available, it is a measure of ability. In terms
of informal social control, ability obtained through social ties shapes
willingness as neighbors see that their actions work. Research supports
the importance of social ties but also suggests that social ties alone
are not sufficient for understanding neighborhood social control (see
Warner and Rountree 1997 for a discussion of the research on social ties).
Despite the prediction that dense social ties are important in understanding
neighborhood crime rates, research remains relatively rare and findings
are inconsistent (see for example Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Sampson
et al., 1997; Sampson and Groves 1989; Velez, 2001; Veysey and Messner
In terms of the use of formal social control mechanisms, ability can also
be assessed in terms of the quality of services received. As with informal
social control, the more effective these strategies are perceived, the
more likely people will be willing to use them. There is evidence in the
area of policing that quality of services is important in shaping willingness
to work with the police. This evidence is indirect but starts with the
finding that there is variation in police services across areas. For example,
studies have shown that inequality of delivery and distribution of police
service has long existed along racial/ethnical lines (Brown and Coulter
1983; LaFave and Remington 1965; Myrdal 1944). Further, research on the
neighborhood context of police behavior found that police do act differently
in different neighborhoods (Jacob 1971; Smith 1986; Smith et al. 1984;
Sun and Payne 2004; Weitzer 1999, 2000). Finally, research has found differences
by arrest, as well as the recording of crimes, by neighborhood racial
and economic composition (see for example, Warner 1997). The research
suggests that differences in the provision of services by the police are
recognized by members of the neighborhoods and affect both attitudes towards
the police and willingness to call or cooperate with the police. In contrast,
however, are studies that focus on attitudes about the level of service.
These studies are less supportive of a relationship between level of service
and willingness to cooperate with the police. In a 1996 study, Frank and
his colleagues found that attitudes regarding satisfaction with police
services were not related to levels of private or public cooperation with
the police. Others have found that the seriousness of a crime is a better
predictor of the decision to call the police than citizens' attitudes
toward police performance and toward relations between police and citizens
(Birkbeck, Gabaldon, and LaFree 1993), though attitudes still remain important.
The Relationship between Ability and Willingness
There is predicted to be an interaction between ability and willingness
to enact social control. Social control is expected to be highest and
crime rates lowest in neighborhoods where both ability and willingness
are high. Thus, where social ties are dense, quality of police services
is perceived to be high, and where neighbors are willing to cooperate
with the police we expect to find the lowest rates of crime. This is predicted
to occur in neighborhoods where disadvantage is at its lowest and trust
is at its highest. Social control is expected to be lowest and crime rates
highest in neighborhoods where both ability and willingness are low. This
situation is most likely to occur in neighborhoods where disadvantage
is highest and trust is at its lowest level. In between these two extremes,
however, are perhaps the majority of neighborhoods. Here the importance
of both ability and willingness will be most clear. The prediction that
ability is a factor shaping willingness leads to the prediction, however,
that there are few neighborhoods with high levels of willingness and low
levels of ability.
In the next sections of the paper, we examine variation in two forms of
ability; social ties at the informal level and quality of police services
at the formal, as well as one form of willingness to enact formal social
control; cooperation with the police. In addition, the analysis provides
an empirical assessment of the factors which shape the ability and willingness
to enact social control and their effects on neighborhood rates of crime.
Three different data sets were combined to form the data set used in this
study. First, citizen survey data from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods
(POPN) are used to measure citizens' perceptions of quality of police
services and willingness to enact public control. POPN data were collected
from two cities - Indianapolis, Indiana and St. Petersburg, Florida. Crime
data, however, were only available for Indianapolis, thus, the analysis
in this study is limited to this one city. Telephone interviews with approximately
5,400 adults residing within 50 neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Indiana
were conducted by Indiana University's Center for Survey Research in 1996.
The sample was stratified by neighborhoods and based on telephone directories.
Approximately 100 adults were randomly selected from each neighborhood.
Neighborhoods were defined by the boundaries of police patrol beats, which
were determined based on natural neighborhood lines, workload, and physical
barriers such as highways and rivers. The population of each beat ranged
from 1,169 to 19,808 with an average of 7,410. The land area varied from
.49 to 4.6 square miles with an average of 1.8 square miles. Compared
to the 1990 census, the samples under-represented males and over-represented
Caucasians, seniors (age 60 and over), and homeowners (Reisig and Parks
2000: 613-614). The second data set used in constructing the data for
this study was the 1990 census. These data were used to construct neighborhood
structural variables. The final data set included index crime rates by
neighborhood. This was obtained directly from the Indianapolis Police
At the neighborhood level, there are two dependent variables measuring
neighborhood-level crime rates: assault and burglary rates per 1,000 neighborhood
residents. Both measures are average crime rates for the years 1995, 1996,
and 1997. Two measures were chosen so the model fit could be assessed
on both violent and property crimes. Assault and burglary were chosen
of the violent and property crimes available in the data set, because
they are relatively common and likely to provide more reliable measures
of crime than events such as homicides, which are more rare. Although
one cannot rule out the possibility of under-reporting of assault and
burglary, it has been shown that under-reporting is primarily a function
of the severity of the offense, and it is likely that the more serious
assaults and burglaries are reported (see Gove, Hughes, and Geerken 1985).
Factor analysis with varimax rotation was used to construct the two measures
of ability; perceptions of the quality of police work at the formal level
and social ties at the informal. Four items measuring quality of police
services were expected to load on one factor (e.g., "Overall how
satisfied are you with the quality of police services in your neighborhood?",
"The police in your neighborhood try to provide the kind of services
that people in your neighborhood want.", "When it comes to getting
your fair share of police services, would you say that your neighborhood
gets more, less than, or about its fair share?", and "How would
you rate the job the police are doing in your neighborhood in terms of
working with people in your neighborhood to solve local problems?").
Three items measuring social ties were expected to load highly on another
factor indicating social ties in the neighborhood (e.g., "About how
often do you get together with neighbors?", "How many of your
relatives live in your immediate neighborhood?", and "How many
of your friends live in your immediate neighborhood?"). Indeed, as
indicated in Table 1, two factors with eigen values greater than one emerged
and explained 58 percent of the variation across items. The items loaded
on the theoretically predicted factors. Factor scores were used to create
Table 1. Factor Analysis: Dimensions of Perceived Quality
of Police Services and Social Ties.*
A single item was used to measure willingness ("About how many of
your neighbors do you think are willing to cooperate with the police?").
To assess whether the measures of ability and willingness are distinct,
the measure of willingness was included in a separate factor analysis
with all indicators of the two measures of ability. While willingness
did load on the perceived quality of police services, it was kept as a
separate measure of willingness for empirical and theoretical reasons.
First, empirically the item had the lowest factor loading (.529 the next
lowest was .710) and subsequent reliability analyses suggested that its
inclusion lowered, albeit slightly, the reliability of the scale (from
.80 to .78). Furthermore, the inter-item correlations (see appendix 1)
between items expected to measure police ability range from .43 to .64.
Correlations between these measures and the single item measuring willingness
never reach or come close to the lower bound ranging from .25 to .33.
Theoretically, a central interest of the paper is in examining the distinction
between the measures of ability and willingness, and the wording of the
items points to distinct concepts. The measures of police ability all
concern the respondents' perceptions of the police, while the willingness
variable measures the respondents' perceptions of other residents' willingness
to call the police. The two measures are moderately correlated (r=.377)
and willingness is viewed as independent and endogenous to the ability
Two sets of exogenous variables are included in the analyses. Exogenous
variables at the individual level included age, education level, gender,
years residing in the neighborhood, whether the respondent was an owner
or renter, and two dichotomous indicators of race/ethnicity (Black and
other) with whites being the reference category. The exogenous neighborhood
level variables consist of census measures and three measures aggregated
from the resident survey. Concentrated disadvantage and racial heterogeneity
were derived from the 1990 census. Based on work by Wilson (1987), concentrated
disadvantage was measured by summing the percentage of labor force that
was unemployed, the percentage of population that was poor, and the percentage
of families that were headed by single women. The measure is similar to
others found in empirical studies of concentrated disadvantage (e.g.,
Peterson et al. 2000) and has a Cronbach's standardized alpha of .87,
suggesting that the scale is a highly reliable measure. Racial heterogeneity
was measured using Blau's (1977) index of intergroup relations, (1-?Pi2),
where Pi is the proportion of the population in a given group. Five racial/ethnic
categories were used to construct this index, including White, Black,
Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian. A higher score on the index indicates
a more racially diverse neighborhood. The third structural characteristic,
residential mobility, is defined as the percentage of residents who lived
in the neighborhoods for less than five years. This variable was constructed
from a single item asked in the citizen survey that was then aggregated
to the neighborhood level. Two other measures aggregated from the resident
survey were the proportion living within five blocks of a liquor store
and the proportion living within five blocks of a bar or night club. These
measures were included because of recent findings on the effect of liquor
stores and liquor consumption on neighborhood rates of crime (Block and
Block 1995; DiIulio 1995). Table 2 displays the descriptive statistics
of all variables used in in this study.
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics: Individual and Neighborhood
Three questions inform the analysis. The first asks if there is variation
across neighborhoods in the ability to enact social control and willingness
to enact formal control by cooperating with the police. HLM models with
willingness, perceptions of police ability, and social ties with no independent
variables were used to address this question. This is comparable to a
one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), which estimates the amount of variance
between groups. This analysis will thus allow an examination of the extent
to which neighborhoods vary on their levels of ability and willingness
to enact social control.
The second question deals with the individual and neighborhood level factors
that affect ability and willingness. Three HLM models were estimated and
in each case the individual level variables were grand mean centered so
that the effects of the level two variables can be interpreted as contextual
effects (Bryk and Raudenbush 1992).
The third research question concerns the effect of ability and willingness
on neighborhood crime rates, specifically burglary and assault. To estimate
their effects, these measures were aggregated by taking the mean of each
variable. Ordinary least squares regressions were then run to estimate
their effects on neighborhood levels of crime. Unfortunately, there were
serious problems with multicollinearity in the main effects models as
indicated by large variance inflation factors (VIF). Three key variables
were highly correlated at the aggregate level: perceptions of quality
of police service, perceptions of residents' willingness to cooperate
with the police, and concentrated disadvantage. To deal with the problem,
the aggregated variables were standardized and combined by taking the
mean of the three measures. The new variable measures the extent to which
areas are characterized by concentrated disadvantage, the police are seen
as ineffective, and residents are unwilling to cooperate with the police
(Cronbach's alpha = .87). The scale might be considered a measure of disadvantage
and alienation from the police.
We also used regression to test for interactions between social ties
and the measure of disadvantage and alienation from the police. As suggested
by Jaccard and his colleagues (1990) we centered the main effects before
computing the interaction term providing a sensible interpretation of
the main effects. For example, the coefficient for social ties would be
the effect of social ties at the mean level of disadvantage and alienation,
while the coefficient for disadvantage and alienation would be the effect
at the mean level of social ties.
The findings reported in this section of the paper center around three
questions. The first question asks if there is variation across neighborhoods
in the ability to enact social control at the informal and formal levels,
and the willingness to enact formal control by cooperating with the police.
To answer this question, HLM models with willingness to cooperate with
the police and the two measures of ability-perceptions of quality of police
services at the formal level and social ties at the informal-were run
with no independent variables. The findings (not shown in tabular form)
suggest there is important variation across neighborhoods in their levels
of both the ability and willingness to enact social control. For each
model there was significant variation (Chi-square p values < .01) and
the intra class correlations showed that 8 percent of the variance in
willingness, 4 percent of the variance in social ties, and 6 percent of
the variance in perception of police ability was between neighborhoods.
While there is considerable variation within neighborhoods in respondents'
perceptions of the willingness of their neighbors to cooperate, their
perception of the quality of police services, and their social ties, there
is also significant variation across neighborhoods.
The second question deals with the individual and neighborhood level factors
that affect ability and willingness. Three HLM models were estimated,
and in each case the individual level variables were grand mean centered
so that the effects of the level two variables can be interpreted as contextual
effects (Bryk and Raudenbush 1992). In these models only the level-1 intercept
is allowed to vary. Although an exploratory analysis of how the individual
level effects might vary across neighborhoods may prove insightful, the
analyses presented are already complex and with strong theoretical predictions.
Such an analysis is thus beyond the scope of this paper. The results of
the HLM analyses are presented in Table 3.
Table 3. HLM Models of Ability and Willingness to Intervene.
There are at least four important results from this part of the analysis.
First, the results show that, in general, neighborhood structural characteristics
are important causes of both ability and willingness. Structural characteristics
increase the explanatory power over individual characteristics by 48 percentage
points for perceptions of police ability (.160 to .640), by 13 percentage
points for social ties (.438 to .563), and by 38 percentage points for
perceived willingness of residents to cooperate with the police (.366
to .743). Second, the findings indicate that ability, as indicated by
perceptions of police ability and social ties, strongly affect perceptions
of residents' willingness to cooperate with the police. Perceptions of
police ability and social ties increase the explanatory power of the individual
level model by more than 20 percentage points.
Third, the results show that while there are some commonalities in the
factors that affect the measures of willingness and ability to control,
there are important differences as well. At the individual level, years
residing in the neighborhood was negatively associated with perceptions
of the quality of police services but positively associated with social
ties. The longer an individual lives in a neighborhood, the stronger the
social ties, but the less likely to perceive police services as satisfactory.
People who own their residence were more likely than renters to perceive
neighbors as being willing to cooperate with the police. Ownership, however,
is unrelated to perceptions of the quality of police services or social
ties. Education and age were both positively related to perceptions of
the quality of police services and willingness to cooperate with the police,
and age was negatively related to social ties. Blacks were less likely
than whites to perceive the police as providing quality services and to
perceive residents as willing to help the police. Other racial and ethnic
groups were also less likely than whites to perceive residents as willing
to cooperate with the police. This finding held even though neighborhood
level variables were controlled. Finally, females were less likely than
males to see neighbors as willing to help police and tended to have smaller
At the neighborhood level, neither being near liquor stores nor racial/ethnic
heterogeneity had any significant effects, but having bars or nightclubs
nearby was positively associated with social ties. Concentrated disadvantage
was negatively related to perceptions of the quality of police services
and perceptions of resident willingness to cooperate with the police.
In contrast, mobility was positively related to both perceptions of the
quality of police services and willingness of residents to cooperate.
A significant and large amount of the variance was explained in each model.
Overall, the results suggest that there are unique factors that affect
the different measures of ability and willingness.
A fourth and final result of note is found in the effect of neighborhood
disadvantage and alienation on willingness. When ability is not controlled
for, residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods are less willing than residents
of more advantaged neighborhoods to call the police. When ability is controlled
for, however, residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely
to be willing to call the police.
The third research question concerns the effect of the two measures of
ability and the measure of willingness on neighborhood crime rates, specifically
burglary and assault. Table 4 presents the results of the OLS regressions.
Table 4. OLS Regression Predicting Burglary and Assault
Unfortunately, we were unable to estimate the separate
effects of the measures of ability at the formal level; perceptions of
the quality of police services, willingness to cooperate with the police,
and concentrated disadvantage. However, the combined scale, concentrated
disadvantage and alienation from the police, significantly affects both
rates of burglary and assault ( =
.516 and .795, respectively). The second measure of ability, social ties,
is negatively related to both burglary and assault but is not statistically
significant. Although the proximity to liquor stores was unrelated to
rates of burglary and assault, proximity to bars and nightclubs was positively
related to both and particularly strongly related to burglary rates (
= .555). Heterogeneity was unrelated to both burglary and assault rates,
but mobility was positively related to neighborhood rates of assault (
A test was run for an interaction between social ties and the scale measuring
concentrated disadvantage and alienation from the police. The interaction,
however, was not statistically significant nor was there an improvement
in fit for either model. The relationship between social ties and crime
then does not vary across levels of disadvantage and alienation from the
The central purpose of this paper was clarification of several issues
concerning two important concepts drawn from the literature on social
disorganization; ability and willingness to enact social control. In addition
the paper focused on ability and willingness at the formal level of control
because of a lack of research in the area. The paper began by providing
definitions of each concept that, though both center around resources,
were intended to point out the difference between the two. From the definitions,
the discussion moved on to identify factors that past literature has identified
as shaping both willingness and ability to intervene. The rest of the
paper then centered around the empirical assessment of variation in levels
of ability and willingness, the factors shaping each, and the effect on
neighborhood rates of crime. The results of the analyses suggest that
it is important to examine closely both ability and willingness.
The analysis did find that there is significant variation both across
and within neighborhoods in the levels of ability and willingness. It
further found support for the prediction that neighborhood structural
characteristics are important factors in understanding neighborhood variation
in levels of ability and willingness. In addition, ability (as measured
by social ties and perceived police ability) was found to be strongly
related to residents' willingness to cooperate with the police. Two interesting
findings resulted from this part of the analysis. One of the most interesting
findings in this area is that race is related to perceptions of the quality
of police services controlling for neighborhood characteristics. While
some past research has suggested that race differences are fully or better
accounted for by neighborhood structural factors or location (Kusow, Wilson,
and Martin 1997; Sampson and Jeglum-Bartusch 1998), our findings support
other studies that reported a connection between citizen race and their
perceptions or evaluation of police services even when neighborhood characteristics
and other factors are controlled (e.g., Cao, Frank, and Cullen 1996; Henderson,
Cullen, Cao, et al. 1997). The second finding is that when ability is
controlled, residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods are more willing
to call the police than residents of more advantaged neighborhoods. This
may result from a lack of alternatives in disadvantaged neighborhoods
for handling problems.
Do ability and willingness to enact control, especially at the formal
level, significantly affect neighborhood crime rates? The analyses presented
here suggest that the answer to this question is yes. In fact, the findings
indicate that concentrated disadvantage in conjunction with alienation
from the police is more important than social ties. This finding on social
ties may result, however, from the need for a better measure of social
ties at the informal level. Research has already begun to suggest other
ways to measures social ties. Granovetter (1973), for example, argues
the case for weak ties, while Krohn (1986) has argued that social ties
that are multiplex are important for social control. Others have argued
strongly for consideration of the content of social ties, because the
inclusion of criminal others in social ties is not uncommon in high crime
areas, even when some members of the network may strongly object to the
criminal activities of others (Anderson 1999; Miller 1986; Pattillo 1998;
The analysis also gives important information about the relationship between
ability and willingness to enact social control. The evidence is preliminary
but suggestive of three conclusions. First, to the extent that the measure
of social ties captures ability at the informal level of control, this
analysis suggests that ability is different from willingness. This finding
may result from the fact that social ties measure ability at the informal
level, and our only measure of willingness is at the formal level. They
do indicate however that ability and willingness are different and that
future research should consider this distinction. Second, the analysis
suggests that ability at the informal level is distinct from ability at
the formal level of control. The results from the factor analysis show
that the two measures of ability are not strongly related. Social ties
and perceptions of the quality of police services do not load highly on
a single factor. This result is perhaps unsurprising, for previous research
has shown that strong social ties can develop and thrive in neighborhoods
otherwise socially and economically disadvantaged (Pattillo 1998). Finally,
the analysis indicates that our measures of ability and willingness (perceptions
of quality of police services and perceptions of neighbors' willingness
to cooperate with the police) are closely related. This finding too is
not surprising since the ability to reach the police is at times just
a matter of picking up the phone, something most people would only need
the willingness to do to be able to achieve. It is also not surprising
given research by Anderson (1999) that closely ties mistrust of the police
with an unwillingness to call them. Critiques that his conclusions are
not grounded solidly in his data to the contrary (see Wacquant 2002),
the results of our analysis provide support for Anderson's work.
The findings suggest several interesting avenues for future theoretical
development and empirical assessment. The first is the need for an assessment
of ability and willingness at the informal level. It is at this level
where the distinctiveness of each concept may be most important. Consider
recent discussions of social ties. Strong social ties may provide the
ability to control in the sense of access to resources. When there is
an unwillingness to use those resources because of intimate criminal others
in the networks, however, social control may not result. Second, future
research may well wish to explore the relationship between ability and
willingness at both the informal and formal levels. It may well be as
Kubrin and Weitzer (2003b) suggest, that there is a strong relationship
between what happens in terms of social control at the informal level
and what happens at the formal. In fact, Anderson's (1999) work on the
development of the code of the street suggests just that, as well as their
own on retaliatory homicide (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003b). Finally, there
is the need for better measures of ability and willingness at both the
informal and formal levels. Attention to these and other theoretical and
empirical issues should push the boundaries of social disorganization
theory and allow for more precise and sophisticated empirical tests.
Two implications for policy arise from the findings of this study. First,
police administrators should seek ways to improve the quality of their
services. Our findings indicate citizens' perceptions of the quality of
police services influence their willingness to cooperate with the police.
Moreover, quality services should be offered to minority residents in
socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, since they are less satisfied with
police services and are less likely to cooperate with the police. Police
departments may enhance the quality of their services by providing the
same level of protection enjoyed by those in advantaged neighborhoods,
stressing supportive rather than control activities, rendering cultural
diversity training to patrol officers, and recruiting and assigning more
minority officers to minority neighborhoods. Second, local governments,
including police, should pay more attention to local bars and nightclubs.
Our findings show that local bars and nightclubs, rather than liquor stores,
are related to higher crime rates. Local governments may monitor and regulate
these businesses through routine code inspection and strict violation
enforcement. Police could treat them as "hot spots" and design
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