Abstract: Searching for Disconfirming Evidence on Neighbor Perspectives on Safety in a Diverse Urban Neighborhood: Spatial Patterns of Police Calls (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Searching for Disconfirming Evidence on Neighbor Perspectives on Safety in a Diverse Urban Neighborhood: Spatial Patterns of Police Calls

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Stephen Edward McMillin, PhD, AM (MSW), Associate Professor, Saint Louis University, St Louis, MO
Jason Carbone, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Background and Purpose

Understanding community (dis)organization within urban neighborhoods is key for stability and safety. Neighbor perceptions of social (dis)order contribute important data, because key informant interviews provide reliable, stable, and valid measures of community organizational processes (Hardyns et al., 2021). However, little is known about how neighbor perceptions of risk and safety align with collected and available data such as calls for police service within neighborhood boundaries over defined and similar periods of time. This study helps fill this gap by investigating how calls for service in a racially mixed, rapidly developing urban neighborhood in St. Louis align with perceived factors for neighborhood safety.


This research was part of a three-year ethnography. Participant observation was conducted at monthly meetings of a local neighborhood association and weekly crime statistics reports for the neighborhood were analyzed in this time. The neighborhood contains about 2,500 residents who were 48.9% Black, 41.4% White, and the remainder other or multiple races. In-depth, semi-structured, qualitative interviews approximately 90-120 minutes in length were conducted with 16 residents of the neighborhood. Convenience sampling – in partnership with a local community organization – and snowball sampling methods were used to recruit participants. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and reviewed for accuracy. Analytic methods used included open, thematic coding and qualitative description analysis. Finally, 180 calls for service were gathered by the neighborhood liaison police officer for the three-year ethnography and analyzed for themes.


Calls for service covering the neighborhood were categorized as accident, assault, theft, statutory, and substance or weapons calls. Each call was then analyzed individually and recoded as primarily a property crime or a violence, health, and safety concern. Neighbor concerns focused on gun-based gang activity and dangerous self-defense as well as neighborhood convenience stores and service businesses clustered on one end of the neighborhood which were perceived as common crime sites. Neighbors also reported that crime was a great concern in summer months and in less dense residency areas (i.e., commercial streets with convenience stores and service businesses). However, calls for service involving theft (i.e., neighborhood home, vehicle, and business) comprised 81.8% of all calls, which peaked in December and did not follow any clear spatial path regarding residential or commercial areas.

Conclusions and Implications

Neighbor perception of neighborhood crime do not clearly match calls for police service across the neighborhood over the same time. Calls for service may be influenced or inflated by extra-neighborhood factors, such as insurers and vendors requiring a police report to cover damages or losses. A second wave of ethnographic data collection and interviews will use call for service analytic findings for member checking and new data collection of neighbor perceptions of risk. This future research will benefit from combining new systematic social observations with available demographic and spatial data (Sas, Snaphaan, Pauwels, Ponnet, & Hardyns, 2022).