Ecological assessments of community disorder: their relationship to fear of crime and theoretical implications

Am J Community Psychol. 1996 Feb;24(1):63-107. doi: 10.1007/BF02511883.


Researchers suggest that fear of crime arises from community disorder, cues in the social and physical environment that are distinct from crime itself. Three ecological methods of measuring community disorder are presented: resident perceptions reported in surveys and on-site observations by trained raters, both aggregated to the street block level, and content analysis of crime- and disorder- related newspaper articles aggregated to the neighboring level. Each method demonstrated adequate reliability and roughly equal ability to predict subsequent fear of crime among 412 residents of 50 blocks in 50 neighborhoods in Baltimore, MD. Pearson and partial correlations (controlling for sex, race, age, and victimization) were calculated at multiple levels of analysis: individual, individual deviation from block, and community (block/neighborhood). Hierarchical linear models provided comparable results under more stringent conditions. Results linking different measures of disorder with fear, and individual and aggregated demographics with fear inform theories about fear of crime and extend research on the impact of community social and physical disorder. Implications for ecological assessment of community social and physical environments are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Aged
  • Baltimore
  • Child
  • Crime / prevention & control
  • Crime / psychology*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Juvenile Delinquency / prevention & control
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Opinion*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Problems / prevention & control
  • Social Problems / psychology*
  • Urban Population*